Florida Nursing Home Task Force Sends Recommendations to Legislature without Full Support
A Florida task force charged with solving the state nursing home industry's "host" of financial and quality problems decided on Dec. 18 not to vote on the recommendations it had crafted, the Orlando Sentinel reports. In "a surprising reversal," the commission elected to send 120 recommendations made by the task force's staff last week to lawmakers without the entire panel's full support (Groeller, Orlando Sentinel, 12/19). The panel drafted a proposal on Dec. 14 recommending that lawsuits against nursing homes have caps on "non-economic," or punitive, damages; that the statute of limitations for filing a nursing home lawsuit be cut from four years to two; that the "plaintiff would have to prove care was worse than the care at other facilities in the area"; and that lawyers "would have to take their fees from the award" instead of adding them on (Mattson, Florida Times-Union, 12/16). The task force also proposed that the state increase funding for community-based and at-home nursing programs; experiment with new HMOs that would provide nursing care, hospital care and at-home care for one set price; establish mandatory minimum staffing levels for nursing homes; and increase Medicaid reimbursements to help pay for new hires (Nohlgren, St. Petersburg Times, 12/15). Instead of voting on each individual recommendation, as they were scheduled to do yesterday, the task force "adjourned early after debating for three hours on whether to vote at all." Without a vote from the panel, the commission's report to the state Legislature will include multiple suggestions for solutions rather than specific recommendations. The final report will be submitted in February, more than a month after the previously established Jan. 1 deadline.
Task force Chair Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan (R), who "led the charge" against a vote, "argue[d]" that the task force created by the state Legislature last April was not required to make specific recommendations but to "present lawmakers with as much information as possible." Brogan said, "I am convinced that the mountain of information we are about to give the Legislature gives them the benefit of not having to start from scratch." But task force member Rep. Nancy Argenziano (R) said, "My problem is that we could send a document to the Legislature that 50% of the members do not agree with." Karen Torgesen, president of the Florida Association of Homes for the Aging, said she was "devastated" that the task force did not vote, adding, "The task force did not have the political will to act. We are very concerned that the Legislature won't, either" (Orlando Sentinel, 12/19). Panelist Ken Connor, a trial lawyer representing families of nursing home residents, called proposed caps on lawsuit awards "ridiculous" and "outrageous," saying, "The amount of damages isn't the problem. The problem is we have a crisis of care in Florida and the industry is in denial about it." Currently, 25% of Florida nursing home beds are operated by companies in bankruptcy, AP/St. Petersburg Times reports. In addition, the task force determined that unless the state finds a way to divert the 400,000 elderly Floridians who need daily assistance from nursing homes, the state's long-term care expenses will increase $3 billion by 2010 (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 12/19).