Florida Nursing Home Staffing Funds Get Slashed; Neglect and Abuse a Risk in Fort Lauderdale

Nursing homes in Florida could soon be staffed with even fewer nurses after Florida Legislature voted to lower minimum staffing requirements by nearly 10 percent. This cut was made as a way to help them absorb another round of Medicaid budget cuts. This cut could affect the more than 70,000 nursing home residents in Florida, according to The Palm Beach Post.

Please remember this the next time you hear of the need for tort reform — which involves reducing the amount someone injured or killed by negligence can collect in a lawsuit. The system initially agreed to an increase in staffing years ago as part of an agreement limiting some rights of patients and families to sue. The reduction, of course, did not come with any agreement to restore those rights.

If you are in a nursing home in Fort Lauderdale, or you have a loved one in a nursing home elsewhere in Florida, this means that now you’ll be averaging only 3.6 hours of contact with a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse or certified nursing assistant a day.

Our Palm Beach nursing home neglect attorneys understand that when we search for a nursing home, we want to choose a home that provides the best care at the most reasonable cost. With these recent reductions in nurse-patient contact, finding a nursing home with adequate care might be hard to find.

It is estimated that roughly 3,500 nurses across the state could lose their jobs as nursing homes shed staff. As it stands now, about three out of every four seniors that are in long-term nursing home care have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and require help with every day basic needs. Reducing nursing staff is only going to drastically affect these patients.

Many advocates predict that malnutrition, dehydration, falls, bedsores and life-threatening blood infections in nursing homes are going to experience a significant increase as nurses become harder and harder to find.

“You don’t take the nursing out of nursing homes,” said Jack McRay, advocacy manager for AARP Florida. “We think it was very shortsighted on the part of the legislature.”

This policy change was initially proposed in an eleventh-hour budget conforming bill, apparently to mute public input. Officials tried to sneak this one through without causing too much backlash. They’ll be taking $187 million from Medicaid’s nursing homes to try to balance its budget.

“It was published the night before the legislature was adjourned, so it was an up-or-down vote and there was no hearing on this standard,” McRay said.

Palm Beach County is the home to more than 50 nursing homes. These homes will lose a combined $13 million because of these cuts, reports the Florida Health Care Association.

“We agree that better staffing leads to better care,” said Medicaid’s nursing home reimbursement director Tony Marshall. . “You can’t staff if you don’t have the adequate funding.”

According to a number of recent studies, patients typically do better in homes that have a greater mix of registered nurses. The Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded that the ideal level of care in a nursing home is only 45 minutes of registered nurse staffing per resident per day.

AARP is fighting back against these cuts. They are encouraging nursing home caregivers to sign its petition demanding that the nursing homes commit to maintaining their current nurse staffing. So far about 3,000 caregivers have contributed their signatures.

“It’s unfortunate that this is the route that had to be chosen” to reduce Florida’s budget deficit, Marshall said. “We will be back to the legislature to try to close that gap next year.”

Having trouble finding the right nursing home? MSNBC offers these tips to help you along:

-Know your rights. If you’re told that your loved one must be discharged from a hospital within 24 hours, it is important to remember that you have appeal rights under Medicare. This could allow you to extend your loved one’s stay by two more days. These additional two days will allow you with more time to research nursing homes.

-Hit the computer. Through Consumer Reports, you are now able to investigate nursing homes across the country. This website makes a note to list the nursing homes you should avoid, too!

-Make unannounced visits to potential homes more than once. As you start to narrow your search down to two or three homes, make sure to visit them at different times of day. When are residents sleeping? Are they eating dinner in their rooms rather than in the dining room? Keep an eye out for resident stimulation.

-Sit down with the administrator of your potential homes. Ask about their views on long-term care. Ask if the nursing home has experienced high-level turnover in recent years. Ultimately, find out if the care at this facility is stable.

-Ask about Medicaid. If your loved one lives in a nursing home for a long time, their financial resources most likely will be exhausted. Then they will be eligible for Medicaid. Make sure you get the nursing home’s payment policy in writing. Specify what happens when private funds or Medicare reimbursements run out.