Tallahassee, Fla. – State lawmakers took positive steps in 2014 toward supporting families caring for frail loved ones, AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said Friday.

“On behalf of our 2.7 million members statewide, we are glad to see that the Legislature made progress in supporting family caregivers,” Johnson said.  “But too many families will still be waiting for services even after this new funding.  Next year, Floridians 50+ expect the Legislature to do better.”

On other fronts, Johnson noted solid progress by state lawmakers on issues that AARP fought for in the 2014 session.  Lawmakers:

•    Were poised to approve the largest increases in nearly a decade for programs directly supporting seniors in need of services and their caregivers.  The extra funding includes $5 million increase for Community Care for the Elderly (CCE).  CCE helps seniors avoid or defer institutional care; $4 million in increased funding for the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative to reduce the waiting list for eligible recipients; and over $12 million in additional funding for the Medicaid mandatory managed long-term care waiver program.  This funding will support home-and-community based services for Medicaid recipients.
Johnson added that while the extra funding is a good step forward, many thousands of Florida seniors and their families still struggle to care for frail loved ones while they wait for services.  Before the extra funding was approved, approximately 54,000 individuals were waiting for home- and community-based services.
“This waiting list is much more than an abstract number,” Johnson said.  “Every number on that list represents a family caregiver who is shouldering sometimes-crushing responsibilities, isolated and alone.”

•    For the first time in more than 25 years, the state budget includes an increase in the personal needs allowance for nursing home residents, tripling the allocation from $35 to $105 per month. This money is used to pay for haircuts, toiletries, clothing, etc.
•    Over $8 million in increased funds for the Assistive Care Services program, a Medicaid-based state plan that provides care for eligible low-income residents enrolled in either an ALF, qualified treatment facility, or an adult family-care home.  Qualified recipients receive assistance with activities of daily living, medication administration and health support.
•    As signaled by legislative leaders early in the session, lawmakers overwhelmingly approved protection from liability for truly passive investors in nursing-home companies.  However, the legislation retains the rights of nursing home residents and their representatives to sue for damages anyone who abuses, neglects or otherwise wrongly harms nursing-home residents.  AARP, the Florida trial lawyers’ lobbying association and other groups supported the 2014 legislation as a strategy for fending off more restrictive nursing-home tort-reform proposals.
•    Adopted heightened criminal penalties for persons who exploit vulnerable adults (Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples and Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples were prime sponsors).  The legislation applies tougher criminal penalties to trustees, guardians or others who defraud frail elders or the disabled and it facilitates easier prosecution against  fraudsters who misuse  vulnerable adults’ assets.
•    Gave judges and other court officials new tools to oversee guardians of elders and people with disabilities (Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg and Rep. Passidomo were prime sponsors).
•    Retained Florida’s requirement that nursing homes demonstrate local need for additional nursing home beds before they get approval to construct new facilities.  Florida’s moratorium on construction of new nursing home beds recently expired.  The nursing home industry proposed legislative authorization for a cap of an additional 5,000 nursing home beds in Florida.  AARP negotiated this cap downward to 3,750 new nursing home beds rather than 5,000.  This lower figure will keep in check overbuilding of nursing home beds until there is ample data to support any further increase.in the cap.
•    Adopted recommendations of the state’s Purple Ribbon Task Force to improve protections for those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.  Among other provisions, the 2014 legislation, sponsored by Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, and by ,Sen. Richter, R-Naples heightens coordinated services for Alzheimer’s Disease patients while in emergency shelters.  The legislation also increases funding for Alzheimer’s Disease research.

Late on the last day of the session, legislators had not yet acted on proposed reforms of oversight of the assisted-living facility (ALF) industry.  AARP advocates were watching this legislation closely.  The Legislature has considered reform of the legislation every year since a Miami Herald expose found 70 deaths at ALFs attributed to neglect or abuse, but in prior years, reform legislation has failed to pass.

Later this year, AARP Florida will publish a state legislative voting record tracking lawmakers’ votes on dozens of bills in the 2014 session, Johnson noted.  AARP will share the voting record information with AARP members before the 2014 elections.