Elder Abuse Happens Because Florida Allows Just About Anyone to Care for Our Elderly

It is True That Florida Allows Just About Anyone to Care for Our Elderly

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey should be applauded for the April 7, 2023 arrests of Assisted Living Facility Memory Care workers Jada Harris and Shy’Tiona Bishop. Both women were arrested on charges of Exploitation of the Elderly after they live streamed themselves to a group of friends abusing an Elderly woman with dementia at Market Street Memory Care in Melborne, Florida. The video shows them laughing and taunting the elderly woman.

It appears from a quick search of the Florida department of health licensure website that neither Harris or Bishop is licensed or certified to be providing direct care to the elderly. What the public may not know is that there is no real licensure or certification required to do so.

As Sheriff Ivey stated in his press conference, the actions of these two health care workers were disgusting and vile. But responsibility for this criminal conduct should not end with just these two employees. Florida politicians want to pretend they have no responsibility for this type of elder abuse. But the truth is, the Florida politicians are the ones that have set up the system that allows people with a tendency to engage in this type of behavior to work in Florida Assisted Living Facilities. For years, ALF abuse and neglect lawyers and other advocates for the elderly have been demanding the legislature increase the minimum requirements to become a health care worker caring for our elderly. But the Florida legislature has routinely done the opposite.

Almost anytime the industry has requested relaxation or reduction of safety measures in assisted living facilities and nursing homes, the legislature has enthusiastically done so. Currently there are no real licensure requirements for someone working as an aide in an assisted living facility. The bottom line is that almost anyone over the age of 18 can work in an assisted living facility in Florida and provide direct care to our elderly demented citizens after less than 10 hours of training. In fact, certification only requires 26 hours. Why is the requirement so low? Do Florida politicians honestly believe the low standards are necessary for the industry to stay in business? Or do the corporate donations and endorsements influence the legislature’s decision. Either way, the only rational explanation is that the low standards allow the industry to take advantage of cheap labor. Requiring someone to take a lengthy course, pass a test, and become certified or licensed, would entitle that person to command a higher wage.

But the lax minimum standards have another more dangerous consequence. Sure, the industry gets their cheap labor. But our elderly, demented citizens, one of our most vulnerable populations, are cared for by people that have no business doing so. That’s not to say that all unlicensed minimally trained employees providing direct care in assisted living facilities are bad people. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Most are good people doing the best they can to help others. But the goodness of most should not be the standard that governs who we let care for vulnerable adults. Instead, the system should be set up to catch the abusers before they abuse and weed them out. An extensive lengthy course, a test, and a certification process coupled with employer supervision and oversite is a positive step in this direction.

Of course, the assisted living facility and nursing home industry itself must also bear some of the responsibility for this type of criminal conduct in their facilities. In Florida, and in most states, the legal doctrine of respondeat superior makes an employer legally responsible for the damages caused by their employees. The idea is based on the concept that the employer is benefiting financially from employing the employee. Since the employer is gaining the benefit of profits from the employees labor, the employer must also be responsible for harm caused by that employee.

Most people agree with this concept when the employee acted negligently but did not intend the harm. Corporations, Florida politicians and a certain segment of the general public seem to have a problem with this concept when an employee acts intentionally or recklessly to harm another person. But the concept does apply and should apply to this situation as well. The innocent person that paid for the services of the employer relied on the employer to supply safe employees. The employer is making money in the transaction and should be responsible for harm caused whether the conduct of the employee was negligent, intentional, or reckless.

More importantly, the employer is the one in the best position to ensure this type of conduct does not occur. It’s not enough to act swiftly after the criminal act occurs. When bad conduct is foreseeable, employers have a duty and responsibility to put in place systems to avoid that bad conduct. Since abusing the elderly is foreseeable and predictable, employers should be doing everything in their power to weed out employees capable of engaging in this type of conduct before it occurs. Having high standards that includes only employing people that have taken a lengthy course, a test, and a gone through a certification process along with offering a large enough wage to attract higher quality people should be part of the solution. Adequate supervision and oversight after the employee is hired should also be implemented.

Sheriff Ivey should be acknowledged and praised for his actions in protecting the elderly. But we do take issue with Sheriff Ivey’s statements that the “facility did everything right.” It may be true that Market Street Memory Care acted swiftly when they became aware of the conduct. But many questions remain unanswered about what Market Street was doing before the criminal act occurred. Did they require only licensed certified employees to care for the elderly in their facilities? It appears they did not. Did they offer a large enough wage to attract high quality people? It appears they did not. Did they have a lengthy training program in place? We do not know. Did they have a system of supervision that includes spot checks of employee work? We do not know this either. Were there signs of poor care by Harris and Bishop before they decided to live stream their abuse that Market Street Memory Care overlooked? Hopefully further investigation will provide the answer.

If this happens to your loved, we hope you will speak up and demand action. We are here to help you with that process, contact our office if abuse or neglect has happened to your loved on if a Florida ALF or Nursing Home Facility.


Our main office is here in Downtown Tampa, Florida in the Channelside neighborhood. Office in Wesley Chapel and Largo are available by appointment only.

Distasio Law Firm