Florida lawmakers seek to address nursing home staffing issues

Health care workers with a nursing home resident. Credit: WINK News

Nursing homes have been pushed to the brink by staffing shortages, and those still on the job are asked to do the impossible. State lawmakers are looking to change the rules on what is required of them, but opponents worry the proposed bill will put residents at risk.

The legislation looks at reducing the time certified nursing assistants spend with each resident from two-and-a-half hours a day to two. Non-medical staff would be allowed to help residents bathe, get to the bathroom and do other daily tasks.

Leaders with AARP told WINK News there is a better way to address the worker shortage and that this legislation will potentially put residents in harm’s way. But Florida Rep. Lauren Melo from Naples, who introduced the bill, says it will do the opposite because it will free up some mandated time, allowing nursing homes to focus on the quality of care each resident receives.

“There’s a concern on the nursing home industry’s part that we need more people in order to do this job than there are currently interested in that sort of work,” Melo said. “Now, what we would say is, that’s probably a sign that we need to pay them a lot more… [this is] allowing the nursing homes to have the flexibility to have an occupational therapist in place of a mandated minimum on a CNA to make sure that our elderly are rehabbing.”

Melo says her children’s grandmother passed away in a nursing home in 2020, so this bill hits home for her. She says she has sat down with leaders from AARP several times to hear their suggestions, but they haven’t offered any.

“We’ve seen an increase in Alzheimer’s, we’ve seen an increase in opioid issues, issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, where there is a need for additional therapists,” Melo said.

Jeff Johnson, state director of AARP Florida, says limiting time for CNAs will put more of a strain on those who are already experiencing burnout. They also have concerns with the bill allowing non-medical staff to help residents with daily tasks like eating and going to the bathroom.

“The occupational therapist, the physical therapist… all of those things currently happen now and I think it’s very important that we recognize that they can continue to happen but it’s not really, again, a replacement for that essential care,” Johnson said.

Leaders with the Florida Health Care Association say they have had a staffing shortage in their nursing homes and have lost 10,000 jobs since the pandemic began. They say the CNA position is the most difficult to fill and this bill can address the shortage they’re experiencing.

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