SEBRING - Not that there is a shortage of space or poor conditions for those in nursing homes in Highlands County, but more beds and upgrades in nursing facilities could become available if a proposed state bill passes.
A moratorium enacted in 2001 on adding nursing home beds through a "Certificate of Need" process is scheduled to expire Oct. 1, when a move to a statewide Medicaid managed-care program is finished.
March 27, the state House passed the HB 287 bill 116-0, helping pave the way for more nursing home beds and updating aging facilities locally and statewide.
The Senate bill, SB 268, was approved by the Health Policy committee Jan. 8 and the Children Families and Elder Affairs committee March 13. It was unanimously approved 13-0 in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Wednesday. It will go to the Senate for approval by April 9.
If approved, the bill would repeal the moratorium July 1 and make other changes in the certificate of need (CON) process and create a new limit for beds.
CON programs restrain health care facility costs and allow coordinated planning of new services and construction.
Laws for those programs are one way state governments work to reduce overall health and medical costs. Despite many changes in the past 30 years, about 36 states retained some type of Certificate of Need program, law or agency as of December 2011.
Highlands County has five nursing care homes by definition with about 600 beds, said Kippy Watley, business officer manager for Oaks at Avon, a 104-bed nursing home in Avon Park.
The moratorium was partly designed to help lead to more care being provided in homes and communities rather than nursing homes.
Current law states the Agency for Health Care Administration cannot issue additional certificates of need after 3,750 new beds have been approved over a three-year period.
"It will make things better and easier and hopefully add more dementia units for the county. It keeps people living in the city where they're already living," said Watley.
Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, sponsor of the bill, said the bill amends various sections of the Florida statutes related to nursing home CON.
Grimsley is the chair of the health and human services subcommittee.
"I am the primary sponsor of the bill, so yes, I will vote for it," she emailed. "The biggest benefit is that it creates incentives for older facilities to replace their buildings with new structures."
That is the main impact of the bill, said David Smith, administrator of Lake Placid Health Care. He pointed out the bill would permit Medicaid money to be used to update and refurbish nursing home facilities.
In a blog posted March 27 by Florida Health Care Association, it stated the bill preserves the current CON law, which "promotes health care cost containment, encourages home- and community-based care, and prevents unnecessary duplication of long-term care services."
"As more Florida baby boomers transition to retirement, it is appropriate for the state to take critical steps like those outlined in this good legislation to continue our leading role among America's most senior friendly states. With this bill, seniors in need of nursing facility care will have a high-quality setting that promotes person-centered care," was written.
Tom Moran, operations and management consultant for the Florida Department of Health Highlands County, said if passed, the bill should improve nursing care functionality.
"It's more of a state mandate. At the local level, we'll just wait for guidance from the state for these issues; whatever are the state guidelines, we will follow," he said.
If the House and Senate pass different versions, the bill would return to both the chambers before being submitted to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.