TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Florida lawmakers gave final approval on Monday to a plan that would change staffing standards at nursing homes, amid a debate over how it would affect residents.
The Senate voted 28-9 to pass the bill (HB 1239), which was approved by the House on Friday in an 80-31 vote. It is set to go to Governor Ron DeSantis.
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The debate has centered on changes involving certified practical nurses, who provide much of the hands-on care for nursing home residents. Opponents of the bill, including the state’s long-term care ombudsman, seniors’ advocacy group AARP and the Service Employees International Union, which represents nursing home workers, have claimed that it would result in reduced care for residents, which could result in harm.
But Ben Albritton Senate sponsor R-Wauchula said he didn’t think it would put residents at risk.
“If I really, really believed this was going to hurt a resident, my name would not be on this bill,” Albritton said Friday as the Senate passed the measure.
Lawmakers passed staffing standards in 2001 as part of a series of changes affecting nursing homes. But the standards have long been controversial, and the nursing home industry pushed for changes during this year’s legislative session.
Proponents argued, in part, that the changes would help address staffing shortages that have led to at least some nursing homes leaving beds empty due to a lack of workers.
“Our suppliers have, and continue to explore, every possible avenue to recruit, train and retain qualified healthcare personnel, but the reality is that even with dramatically increased hourly wages, there is a labor shortage. long-term care,” Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of industry group LeadingAge Florida, said in a prepared statement Monday.
Current law requires certified practical nurses to provide a minimum of 2.5 hours of direct care per resident per day. The bill would reduce that to two hours.
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Additionally, current law requires certified practical nurses and registered nurses to provide a weekly average of 3.6 hours of direct care per patient per day. The bill would keep that average of 3.6 hours, but allow time spent by other types of workers, such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists, to be taken into account in the calculation.
During a House debate on Friday, Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said certified practical nurses had been “underpaid and overworked for years” and that the changes would not help address health issues. workforce.
“It’s not going to get more people on the pitch,” Eskamani said. “I don’t think it makes good economic sense.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said the changes “will cause real harm.”
But supporters said the bill would give nursing homes more flexibility to meet the needs of residents, while helping to address staffing shortages.
“I want to give our seniors the best possible quality of life,” said house godmother Lauren Melo, R-Naples.
Nursing homes and plaintiffs’ attorneys have long fought, but this year’s bill was unusual because it had the support of the Florida Justice Association, which represents litigators.
At a committee meeting last month, Blair Mendes, an attorney representing the association, said nursing homes had used the 2.5-hour minimum standard as a “shield” to defend against lawsuits. He said the bill would eliminate “some of the shields nursing homes can use to avoid liability in courtrooms.”
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