"Angel Joglar, 71; killed when left in a bathtub of scalding water."
"Gladys Horta, 74 years old; strapped so tightly the restraints ripped into her skin, causing a blood clot that killed her."
"Walter Cox, 75 years old; Alzheimer's patient. Wandered out of a facility for the fourth time; his body was found torn apart by an alligator."
These are just a few of the stories uncovered during The Miami Herald's yearlong investigation into Florida's assisted living facilities. Thousands of documents revealed a nearly hidden world of questionable deaths, abuse, and cases of neglect towards the elderly and mentally ill.
Their project, "Neglected To Death," chronicled years of caregiver malpractice, unsuitable living conditions, and exposed Florida's state regulators' failure to monitor and enforce the laws protecting some of society's most vulnerable residents. The Miami Herald and WLRN uncovered 70 questionable deaths within the last decade alone.
While Florida supposedly holds some of the strictest elder-abuse laws in the nation, in nearly all cases recorded, The Herald found the vast majority of abuse and neglect by caregivers did not end in criminal charges or arrests by police agencies. NPR reports the AHCA found enough violations in 2008 and 2009 that it could have revoked the licenses of 70 facilities -- instead, it only closed seven.
Even more, the state's Agency for Health Care Administration, which monitors assisted living facilities, is underfunded, understaffed, and only performs inspections on each facility once every two years.
And these problems extend far beyond the borders of Florida.
Just last month, a lawsuit was filed against Washington Odd Fellows Home for patient neglect, reports The News Tribune.
Reports say the patient was assigned to a room on the top floor at the facility despite the fact that she had increased suicide attempts and was experiencing worsening depression and paranoia. The room had unlocked windows and a door that locked from the inside.
Last year, a North Carolina assisted living home had to declare bankruptcy for what a judge called "a pattern of neglect by under-trained and understaffed employees," reports the Associated Press.
Nearly every day, U.S. headlines paint a picture of seniors who are abused, neglected and exploited. And according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), a government resource committed to ensuring older American live with with dignity, no one truly knows the extent of the problem since few cases are identified.
The NCEA website explains:
"Research indicates that more than one in ten elder may experience some type of abuse, but only one in five cases or fewer are reported."
This means very few seniors get the help they need -- it's an unfortunate trend that rarely gets worthy documentation. But there are ways you can help.
First, the Miami Herald provides a list of ways to protect yourself and your loved ones, from choosing your assisted living location to knowing what to do if something goes wrong.
There are also nonprofit advocacy groups and government agencies that aim to protect against elder abuse:
The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of abuse and neglect of older persons and adults with disabilities. Direct donations will help increase recognition by policy makers, professionals, and the public about elder abuse and the need for new services, maintain the website, and support affiliates in building grassroots and coalitions to meet local needs.
A similar organization, Citizens' Committee to Protect the Elderly, provides guidance, assistance, and support to families and residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities through three different programs: The Humanitarian Visitor Program, Information and Guidance Program, and Community Service Projects. You can donate money or volunteer to visit residents directly at their locations.
However, many people still feel powerless to protect their loved ones from the perils of elder abuse. Government-sponsored advocacy websites are often woefully out-of-date and there is little information available for the public to take action without help from government officials.
We at HuffPost want to ask you if you have ever experienced, or had a family member experience elder abuse. What actions did you take and how would you suggest others protect themselves, their loved ones and others in their communities? Please let us know by leaving a message in the comments or tweeting @HuffPostImpact with the hashtag #elderabuse.
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