Changes to nursing home staffing laws could lead to South Florida neglect claims

A change in how minimum hours of care are computed could leave elderly residents at greater risk of nursing home neglect in South Florida, the Florida Times-Union reported.

As we reported earlier this year on our South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, nursing home lobbyists supported the measure, which permits a reduction in care hours each resident receives by a Certified Nursing Assistant and permits those hours to be provided by a registered nurse.

This is about saving money for the large chain corporations that operate most nursing facilities. A nursing home typically has very few registered nurses on staff and the majority of care is provided by CNAs and other support staff. The current requirements were set as part of a 2001 deal involving lawsuit rules between resident advocates and consumer groups on one side and the nursing home industry on the other. As a result, lawsuit damages were limited and staffing requirements increased. By 2007, CNAs were required to spend 2.9 hours per day with each patient.

The new law permits a reduction to 2.7 hours of care by a CNA and permits an increase in care by a registered nurse to make up the difference.

“It actually gives providers more flexibility to staff to the residents’ needs,” said Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, a long-term care trade group. “… You’re still maintaining the minimum staffing. It simply gives [nursing homes] more flexibility.”

As if Florida nursing homes are going to be busy spending more on registered nurses. Instead, the law permits homes to manipulate staffing numbers and flies in the face of the agreement they made with advocates in 2001. Of course, the lawsuit limits were not lifted as a result of the industry’s violating the terms of the deal.

“They broke their word to the nursing home residents,” said Anna Spinella, a Tampa-based advocate and chair of ACTION, Advocates Committed to Improving Our Nursing Homes. “That’s the bottom line.”

We just don’t think 2.9 hours of care a day is too much to ask in exchange for the $54,000 annual cost of a Florida nursing home.