Christine Hunchofsky miffed by lack of nursing home personal care attendant data

Christine Hunschofsky
A program aims to grow the workforce, but officials don't have data to show whether it's working.

Since the start of the pandemic, the state has authorized the use of so-called personal care attendants in Florida’s nursing homes.

But the Agency for Health Care Administration could not say on Wednesday how many people who have worked as personal care attendants in the last 17 months went on to become certified nurse assistants, a stated goal of the program.

“At this point, we do not have that information,” Agency for Health Care Administration Deputy Secretary for Quality Assurance Kim Smoak said when House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee member Rep. Christine Hunschofsky asked the question. “I’ll be more than happy to work with our industry leaders, our associations and even the Department of Health to see if we can get you that data.”

Hunchofsky, though, was less than pleased.

“It’s a little concerning that you don’t have that data since the pandemic began in March 2020,” she said.

At the request of the nursing home industry, the Agency for Health Care Administration in April 2020 approved a temporary personal care attendant program under emergency authority stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of the temporary AHCA program was to provide nursing homes with additional staff to care for their residents and to eventually grow the size of the state’s long-term care workforce.

Under the AHCA program, a person could work in a nursing home for up to four months assisting with direct care services after taking an eight-hour training course. The personal care attendant would be required to be directly supervised by nursing staff.

The Florida Legislature passed HB 485 during the 2021 Legislative Session, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law. Lawmakers upped the number of training hours from eight to 16 that a PCA candidate had to take before working with nursing homes residents. HB 485 also allowed nursing homes to count the hours a PCA works toward the state’s minimum staffing requirements.

While the bill required AHCA to adopt rules necessary to implement the program, the agency has not done so to date.

Smoak told members of the House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee the agency was working with the Department of Health on drafting proposed rules to implement the program and hoped to have the rules completed by the end of the year, barring any challenges. Until the rules are finalized, the temporary program remains in effect.

“The program represents an innovative partnership to mitigate the impacts of the continued workforce shortages facing our long-term care industry,” Smoak told committee members.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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