Caregivers say state law is creating life-threatening situations in nursing homes

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. — On Wednesday, health care workers in Southwest Florida said Bill 1239, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, creates dangerous situations for nursing homes.

The bill was signed by DeSantis in April, and caregivers who gathered in North Fort Myers said it was not the solution to the state’s health care shortage.

The event is part of a Florida-wide campaign in which attendees said they would “march the boss” and other actions at their facilities to demand safer staffing and rally against new laws that have dangerously reduced staffing requirements.

Margarette Nerette, vice president of long-term care for the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union, agrees there is a problem in the state of Florida when it comes to nursing homes.

“We are going through a crisis,” Nerette said.

HB 1239 was created in part to alleviate the labor crisis in nursing homes.

Roxey Nelson, executive vice president of the United Healthcare Workers East union, said it did the opposite.

“You don’t bring workers back to the bedside by making it harder for them to do their job,” Nelson said.

HB 1239 signed into state law on April 6, changes the way certified health care aides (CNAs) directly care for patients.

The bill partially reduces the requirement that a nursing home must provide a minimum of 2.5 hours of CNA staff per resident per day to 2.0 hours.

A 30-minute difference that Amy Runkle of Sarasota, a current CNA, says has irreversible results.

“We were already struggling, at 2 and a half, now something that people don’t even do. some people don’t take the showers they need, they get bedsores because we don’t have continuity of care. we don’t have the helpers’ responsibility to take care of their people…and that’s hard,” Runkle said.

Florida house representative Lauren Melo of Naples sponsored HB 1239.

We asked Melo how she thinks this bill could impact the issues facing nursing homes.

In a statement to Fox 4 from Lauren Melo:

I was proud to sponsor HB1239. This bill allows for a modernization of staffing standards, which will directly benefit the patient. The needs of patients today are totally different from those of 20 years ago. Direct care staff will include mental health counsellors, physiotherapists and respiratory therapists. HB1239 enables Florida nursing homes to provide a more personalized approach to care.

Lauren Melo Member of the Florida House of Representatives

According to the Florida Healthcare Association, HB 1239 will allow other highly skilled caregivers, in addition to CNAs like counselors and therapists, to step in and meet patient needs.

“And ultimately, what does it do, it slows us down,” Runkle said.

AARP opposed the bill with 1199SEIU caregivers and said this new law removes nursing from nursing homes.

The June 8 effort in Florida is accompanied by a “National Day of Action” by essential union workers calling for safe conditions and fair pay in their workplaces.

1199SEIU spokeswoman Desiree Taylor said Florida is among 13 states participating in this nationwide action, she says, to save nursing homes.

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