But that will all change if Gov. Ron DeSantis does not veto HB 1239.
It’s no secret that there is a direct correlation between the quality of resident care and nursing staff levels in nursing homes. However, right now, legislation is on its way to DeSantis that will lower Florida’s nursing staff standards, taking nursing care out of nursing homes and putting our loved ones in harm’s way. HB 1239 will cut nursing care by 20% — from 2.5 hours daily of Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) care per resident to just 2.0 hours.
What do these numbers mean for seniors needing quality care by trained nursing professionals? It means nursing home residents will — among other things — sit in soiled clothes longer, be turned or repositioned less frequently, and go without timely medication administration or eating. These issues can lead to sepsis, urinary tract infections, pressure or bedsores, cognitive decline, or even death.
HB 1239 would also redefine direct nursing care, replacing CNA staffing hours with workers who are not trained to provide bedside care. Dietary, therapeutic, and mental health professionals provide critical care, but they do not change diapers, give baths, or move patients to prevent bedsores, as CNAs do. For the sake of our loved ones, their quality of life and dignity, and the very nursing care staff charged with this demanding work, reducing the amount of CNA staff to support these activities of daily living cannot and should not happen.
Beyond the immediate impact of this legislation on some of Florida’s most vulnerable residents, HB 1239 makes no sense at a variety of levels as we look to the future. For example, we know that today’s nursing home residents have challenging health needs, such as dementia. CNAs are a critical, yet undervalued, piece of the long-term care industry in Florida and across the country. Going forward, the last thing CNAs need is less time to do their jobs, less time to give a frail elderly individual the dignity of a clean diaper.
The nursing home industry continues to blame quality of care concerns on a workforce shortage. However, if Florida reduces minimum nursing staffing levels, nursing homes will have even fewer CNAs to provide care for the same number of residents, likely exacerbating staff burnout and turnover in the years to come.
There are many ways to address the workforce shortage that nursing homes face without reducing nursing staffing standards. Unfortunately, the nursing home industry repeatedly expresses no interest in alternative solutions; it is laser-focused on reducing nursing staffing standards as an easy, quick fix for its bottom-line woes. Florida’s nursing home residents and their families deserve better than HB 1239.
Just last year, DeSantis made his position clear by saying, “To our seniors — we will continue to put you first.”
AARP urges the Governor to veto HB 1239.
By doing so, he will be signaling to seniors and their families in Florida and across the country that he will continue to protect them when they are most vulnerable and provide them with the dignity American seniors deserve.
Nancy LeaMond is Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy Officer at AARP.