While thousands of Floridians require help going to the bathroom, getting dressed, eating, or even getting out of bed every morning, until somebody we love is in that position due to illness, injury or chronic decline, we would rather ignore that reality. And yet, we all know that the time will come, for us and for those we love, when we need help with these day-to-day activities.
In Florida nursing homes, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are the professionals who provide this care to residents, and because the work is hard and the pay is low, they are in short supply.
Nobody is denying that there’s a staffing crisis in the nursing home industry. After decades of enduring subpar working conditions, little to no job benefits, long hours and low wages, health workers are fed up, and they’re leaving the industry in droves. Across the nation, restaurants, schools, construction, and other industries are also experiencing labor shortages.
This problem has caused Florida’s nursing homes to struggle with staffing, and in some cases, stop admitting new residents because they don’t have enough trained workers to care for them. Thankfully, both chambers of the Florida legislature are allotting $100 million to address the health care workforce shortage in the near term. Looking ahead, Florida must focus on developing and preserving our long-term care system for future generations.
There are many ways to address Florida’s long-term care crisis, and it requires thought leadership, reevaluation of workforce and resident needs, and ultimately, a much greater investment in long-term care options and the health workers that prop up this industry.
Sadly, the nursing home industry isn’t interested in any of that.
Instead, nursing home operators are looking for ways to lower the bar by changing what “counts” as nursing care rather than commit to fixing a broken system. Current legislation would allow nursing homes to reduce daily nursing care for residents and hire fewer trained nursing staff to do these demanding tasks. Rather than invest in improving the quality of life for residents and working conditions for staff, industry groups spend big money in Tallahassee to push their agenda.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that doesn’t write checks to legislators — we advocate on behalf of 2.8 million Floridians who believe that Florida’s nursing home residents deserve the best care.
AARP opposes legislation (HB 1239/SB 804) by Rep. Lauren Melo, a Naples Republican, and Sen. Ben Albritton, a Bartow Republican, which cuts nursing care by 20%, reducing the daily hours that CNAs spend with each resident from 2.5 to 2.0 hours. If these bills pass, it will mean that health workers will have to do more with less help, and that’s not the answer. Data from Florida researchers shows that nursing home quality is positively tied to adequate nurse staffing. Minimum nursing staffing standards exist to ensure assistance with tasks that are critical to quality care.
Nursing home resident care has always been complex — that’s not a new thing. Florida’s critical need for highly qualified nursing staff has not changed — it has only become more vital. So why do legislators want to decrease the time that CNAs spend with our most vulnerable residents?
AARP believes that Floridians deserve a high-quality long-term care system that embraces innovation and invests in reforms that will benefit residents and health workers. If Florida continues these foolish efforts to chip away at the quality of nursing home care, our long-term care system will continue to fail residents. We do not need more legislative changes that let nursing homes off the hook and further damage nursing care standards.
This is the wrong move for Floridians and their families. Let’s keep nursing care in nursing homes.
Jeff Johnson is the state director of AARP Florida.