Guest editorial, Tallahassee Democrat, May 12, 2011
By J. Emmett Reed, CAE
This week is National Nursing Home Week, which is typically filled with celebrations to honor the staff, family members and volunteers who make a difference in the lives of our state’s nearly 71,000 nursing home residents. But with the sting of the 2011 legislative session still being felt across Florida, many celebrations will ring hollow as nursing homes look to cope with the Legislature’s $187.5 million funding cut that will come their way in July.
This year’s theme is “Fulfilling the Promise.” Ironically for the past three years, nursing homes have been asking lawmakers to keep their promise and protect the funding that is critical to resident quality care. Nursing homes have done their part to assist by contributing to the state’s General Revenue through the Nursing Home Quality Assessment, where they essentially tax themselves to draw down additional federal funds. Since tougher standards on nursing home staffing were put into place in 2001, long term care providers have gladly kept their end of the promise, hiring nearly 11,000 nurses and CNAs to provide that direct quality care to residents.
In the final days of session, AARP was highly critical of changes proposed by the Legislature to nursing home care, which everyone recognizes is among the nation’s best. More recently, they’ve also criticized legislators for reducing the amount of staff required in nursing homes which are the direct result of significant funding cuts. Nobody is happy with the budget cuts made by the Legislature to long term care. We would have preferred legislators maintain the funding and staffing requirements, and in fact over 400 long term care professionals descended upon the Capitol fighting budget cuts throughout the entire 60 day session. I am dismayed that AARP was not beside us opposing these cuts and in the very end, rose up in indignation against the reduced staffing that resulted from these cuts. Medicaid providers must be compensated to pay for the level of staff necessary to provide excellent care, and it is my hope all parties work constructively toward that goal.
The reality is that nursing homes, unfortunately, will find a way to do more with less. They will continue to operate efficiently while improving the quality of care and quality of life for their residents. With 70 percent of nursing homes costs paying for the people working in the facility, reducing pay or even staff will become a reality. Because of government limitations, valuable caregivers who work in nursing homes are paid less than they deserve, despite the physical and emotional challenges of caring for residents. Facilities will also struggle to continue the programs that offer quality of life, which is just as important as health care. Most will lack the ability to invest in improvements.
In a week designated to celebrate nursing homes, we will still recognize the vital role they play in our state’s health care system. Not only as a place for the frail elderly who cannot care for themselves, but as a cost-effective setting for patients with short term rehabilitative needs. But with Florida on the verge of a boom in the elderly population, this year’s National Nursing Home Week message is not one of celebration, but rather caution to legislators, AARP and other advocates – don’t abandon Florida's seniors. Nursing homes will continue to do their part to “Fulfill the Promise” and keep that commitment to delivering quality long term care for years to come, and we thank them for all they do to provide compassionate, quality health care to our frailest elders. But the state must keep its promise as well, and we hope as revenues begin to return to normal, legislators will stand up for our state’s seniors and restore funding for quality care to ensure they are able to live out their later years with dignity.