Staffing for nursing homes is falling short

Published: Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 22, 2005 at 10:17 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - In 2001, Florida lawmakers passed a sweeping law that limited the ability of nursing home patients to sue their facilities for negligence or abuse.
At the same time, lawmakers said that limitation would be offset by improving the quality of care in the homes. A central element of that promise was a provision that required the nursing homes to increase the amount of time nursing aides spent caring for their patients.
The law increased the staffing requirement from 1.7 hours a day to 2.9 hours over a three-year period.
But facing increasing financial demands in the Medicaid program, lawmakers have balked at reaching the final staffing level. Last year, they delayed the increase to 2.9 hours in the nursing homes to July 2005, leaving it at the current level of 2.6 hours.
And now heading toward another legislative session, some are suggesting the staffing requirement be delayed for another year in an effort to find more savings in the Medicaid program.
Gov. Jeb Bush in his budget proposal recommends delaying the 2.9 hour requirement until July 2006. It would save more $65 million in the upcoming budget year.
Advocates for senior citizens say the state is backtracking on a promise that was made to nursing home residents four years ago.
Bentley Lipscomb, state director for the AARP in Florida, said the state should at least meet the minimum care level recommended by the federal government, which is 2.9 hours a day for nursing aides. He said there is a direct correlation between staffing levels and the quality of care provided to the nursing home residents.
"We can show that whenever additional staff are put in nursing facilities, the number of complaints about care in those facilities goes down," he said.
Lipscomb said there is no disagreement over the fact that more nurses and aides can help the patients. The only problem is the money to pay for them.
"No one has said we don't need the additional staff, they've only said there's not sufficient money to pay for them," he said.
An unconventional talk From bragging about facial blemishes to a plea for Democratic farmers, Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell covered many bases in an unconventional speech last week to dozens of journalists.
Campbell, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale who is a multi-millionaire attorney, is running for something in 2006. It may be chief financial officer. It may be attorney general. It may be governor.
Campbell would only say that he's in secret talks with other Democrats to line up a slate that would avoid messy primaries that waste money and divide the party.
But Campbell's blunt talk may not be a rhetorical salve for the beaten-down Democrats.
On state party chairman Scott Maddox's endorsement of Howard Dean as the national party chairman: "If (it's the screaming, liberal image of) Howard Dean that's going to show up as party chairman, then I think the Democrats got some problems."
On the party's abject failure to find a candidate interested in running for state agricultural commissioner. "We're looking for someone who owns a farm. Do you know any farmers who are Democrats?"
On the party's sad image: "I hope to God that people in North Florida, Central Florida, South Florida, all realize that just because you have a 'Democrat' after your name doesn't mean you're a loser."
Campbell's lively loquaciousness didn't stop at the boundaries of politics. He told the reporters that he was a youthful candidate because of a "zit" he'd grown. And he scolded the media for not educating the man who shines shoes in the Capitol - Tony - about Gov. Jeb Bush's proposal to cut funding for low-income medical assistance.
"He told me the following story . . . 'Medicaid is very important to us black folks.' He said, 'We're poor. We don't have the same things you white folks have.' "
Campbell wasn't the only Democrat who spoke to the journalists last Wednesday. House Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, followed House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City.
Running into Bense in the hallway of the 22nd floor of the Capitol, Smith did a mock reading of his own speech.
"Everything that guy just said is bull---," Smith joked.
Compiled from reports by Lloyd Dunkelberger and Joe Follick of The Sun Tallahassee Bureau.

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