Nursing home staffing bill sent to Gov. DeSantis for action

Legislative leaders on Tuesday sent a bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis that “modernizes” nursing home staff requirements by reducing the minimum amount of nursing care residents are required to receive.

DeSantis will have 15 days to sign HB 1239 bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

Sponsored by Rep. Lauren Melothe bill reduces the amount of time that certified nursing assistants (CNAs) must spend with long-term care residents daily from 2.5 hours to 2 hours. Lawmakers didn’t eliminate the remaining 0.5 hours of care residents are required to have per day. But they agreed that it could be rendered by other professionals such as physicians; nursing pharmacy; diet therapeutic; dental; podiatry mental health; and paid feeding assistants.

The long-term care industry has championed changing the mandated staffing standards for years, arguing that 2.5 hours of nursing care is an antiquated requirement that needs to be modernized. But its efforts over the years were opposed by AARP Floridawhich represents more than 2.8 million Florida residents aged 50 and older, and the Florida Justice Association (FJA), a group that represents the state’s trial attorneys.

But in 2022, the nursing home industry worked with the trial attorneys and agreed to changes the FJA has pushed for to crack down on nursing homes that do not pay final judgments or settlements.

AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson DeSantis sent a letter March 9 requesting that the Governor veto the bill. In the letter, Johnson argued that reducing the amount of direct nursing care residents are required to receive makes no sense.

Johnson’s letter noted that to qualify for nursing home care, a person must require assistance with activities of daily living like eating, getting dressed, getting out of bed and going to the bathroom.

“If it’s true that today’s nursing home residents have more complex health needs, like dementia, wouldn’t that mean that CNAs will need more time to change their diaper or feed them, rather than less?” Johnson wrote.

Johnson also questioned how reducing the direct nursing care requirements would help prevent staff burnout.

“If we reduce minimum staffing levels, then that means nursing homes will have even fewer CNAs to provide care for the same number of residents. Wouldn’t that make the staff burnout issue worse, not better?”

AARP tried unsuccessfully throughout the 2022 session to kill HB 1239. In lieu of reducing nursing care requirements, AARP Florida offered to spearhead talks among interested parties who could work together to develop alternative solutions.

But Johnson said there was no buy-in from the long-term care industry.

“There are many ways to address Florida’s long-term care crisis. It requires thoughtful leadership and ultimately, a much greater investment in long-term care options and the health workers that prop up this industry. Unfortunately, the nursing home industry repeatedly expresses no interest in alternative solutions to simply reducing nursing staffing standards,” Johnson wrote.

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