Tallahassee, Fla. – State lawmakers took positive steps in 2014 toward supporting families caring for frail loved ones, AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said as lawmakers adjourned their regular session in early May.

But the repeated failure of efforts to reform assisted living facility (ALF) regulation raises serious questions for Floridians of all ages, Johnson added.

Old Florida Capitol (2)“After years of delay and maneuvering, AARP had hoped to see the Legislature enact needed reform of the assisted living facility in Florida in 2014.  Once again, reform failed.”

“We are very disappointed.  Floridians 50+ have been asking for reform of assisted living facility oversight since a Miami Herald expose of shocking abuses in the ALF industry in 2011.  Now they will have to wait another year.”

“Floridians deserve lawmakers’ assurance that they will not suffer abuse and neglect while living at assisted-living facilities.  Legislative failure to provide this assurance is a disservice to all Floridians and to the quality providers within this important industry.”

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

•    Approved 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.  Next year, Floridians 50+ expect the Legislature to do better.”
•    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 limits on liability of passive investors in nursing-home companies.  The legislation retains the rights of families of nursing-home residents to sue for damages in cases of abuse or neglect.  AARP, the Florida trial lawyers’ lobbying association and other groups supported the 2014 legislation as an improvement over a more restrictive nursing-home tort-reform bill proposed last year, which AARP successfully opposed.
•    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.

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.

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