This Call Christina investigation was prompted by a call into the hotline about deplorable living conditions at Arms of Hope.
On its website, Arms of Hope Recovery and Transitional Home stated it had three locations in Broward County.
Jeff Weinberger, a homeless advocate said some residents of the program called him to say they were “suffering."
“That is why I contacted you,” said Weinberger.
As Local 10 News investigative reporter Christina Vazquez began to dig into claims the company made on its own website, Arms of Hope wiped its website clean, deleting all text.
Sober homes are facing a new round of government scrutiny as pending state legislation takes aim at marketing claims made by operators.
ARMS OF HOPE:
The Arms of Hope residents who spoke with Vazquez said they had been referred to the recovery residence by area hospitals.
Its website advertised recovery program promises including a “highly-skilled treatment team”.
“They don’t have it,” said Christon Jerrod Clark, an Arms of Hope resident.
On a URL page with a header that stated, “A Secure Environment," the Arms of Hope website claimed, “Arms of Hope wants to make sure that all residents are safe in our facilities. To help make sure of this, we partner with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office to have officers patrol the grounds. This is how we make sure that you are safe staying with us.” To the left of the claim was a picture of BSO’s logo and a marked BSO patrol car. “All officers are on duty at our facilities during the evening hours to make sure that you are safe.”
We checked: a spokeswoman for BSO told Vazquez there is no partnership with Arms of Hope. There is a vendor agreement to offer off-duty services which are limited to a total of six hours on the weekends between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight.
BSO told Local 10 News Arms of Hope’s statement is now under review by its Office of General Counsel.
A BSO spokesperson added the special detail is on a month-to-month basis and has been extended through March.
In 2015, BSO responded to Arms of Hope’s Oakland Park location more than 200 times with incident calls that included narcotics, overdose, shooting in progress, suicide attempts, and even a dead person.
So far in 2016 there have been 14 incident reports at that address with call types that include seizure and trouble breathing.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) operates the Florida Abuse Hotline, which accepts reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults and self-neglect allegations.
At the Lauderhill address provided by Arms of Hope on its website, DCF tells Local 10 News since 2013 there have been three adult protective services investigations involving individuals and caregivers.
Records regarding abuse and neglect investigations are confidential.
At the Arms of Hope Pompano Beach address BSO call logs indicate deputies responded to that address more than a dozen times in 2015 for incident call types to include sick person, chest paints, seizure, fall injury and assault.
So far in 2016 there have been 8 incident reports to include child/elderly abuse, disturbance, and suspicious incident.
Last summer a new law was passed designed to rein in the largely unregulated recovery resident industry.
The bill was filed by U.S. Rep. Bill Hager, a Republican from Boca Raton, and established a process for operators of recovery residences to become "certified" by a state-approved organization.
DCF awarded a contract to the non-profit FARR (Florida Association of Recovery Residences) to handle certification, but it remains voluntary.
“That regulation is new and nothing has really changed,” stated Weinberger. “Nothing will really change because there is no mandate that these kinds of facilities become licensed.”
That law does stipulate that starting this summer state-licensed drug treatment centers will only be allowed to refer patients to certified sober homes.
FARR hopes that compels recovery residence operators to ask for certification.
FARR tells Local 10 News Arms of Hope has never applied for certification.
Vazquez spoke with the person the Arms of Hope website identified as the President of Operations. At first he said he would do an interview and then didn’t respond to our follow-up request.
“FARR Certification confirms provider compliance with national quality standards and code of ethics in addition to certain other criteria established by Florida Statute 397.487,“ explained FARR President John Lehman.
“While voluntary, effective July 1, 2016, certification is a prerequisite for receiving referral from behavior healthcare providers licensed by the Department of Children & Families."
"FARR is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of recovery support services offered by recovery-oriented housing operators. Ethical operators, who seek and achieve FARR Certification, applaud law enforcement efforts to rid our space of predatory opportunists whose only objective is to profit from this vulnerable population. We encourage all stakeholders possessing direct knowledge of noncompliance with ethical practices to file a grievance by visiting ww.farronline.org.”
• Section 397.487, F.S. establishes a voluntary certification program for recovery residences
• The Florida Association of Recovery Residences, Inc. is currently approved by the department as a credentialing entity for recovery residences.
• DCF tells Local 10 News that at this time, FARR is the only entity to have requested such approval; however, the department may approve multiple credentialing entities should other agencies meeting the statutory criteria.
• The FY15-16 General Appropriations Act (Special Appropriation 377J) directed the department to provide $100,000 "for the Florida Association of Recovery Residences to further develop infrastructure to national standards that effectively supports initial and on-going recovery residence certification." The department contracts with FARR to complete those tasks; this is a separate issue from becoming a credentialing entity.
PENDING NEW LEGISLATION:
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth sponsored a bill this legislative session that takes aim at the marketing practices of operators.
SB 1138: Ethical Marketing Practices for Substance Abuse Services: Prohibiting substance abuse treatment providers and operators of recovery residences from engaging in certain marketing practices; providing that the violation of the prohibition against certain unethical marketing practices by a provider or operator is a violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act; expanding the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act to include protections for people with diagnosable substance abuse disorders and other disabling conditions and civil penalties for those who commit violations against such people, etc.
Effective Date: 07/01/2016
Last Event: 01/21/16 S CS by Children, Families, and Elder Affairs read 1st time -SJ 243 on Thursday, January 21, 2016 6:10 PM
Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton is sponsoring a related house bill.
HB 823: Substance Abuse and Recovery Fraudulent Business Practices Pilot Project: Provides legislative findings; establishes Substance Abuse & Recovery Fraudulent Business Practices Pilot Project within Office of State Attorney for Fifteenth Judicial Circuit; provides for appointment & terms of members & establishes duties of an advisory panel; authorizes state attorney to terminate project; requires report to Governor & Legislature.
Effective Date: upon becoming a law
Last Event: 1st Reading on Thursday, February 11, 2016 5:17 PM