Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Governor Proposes Reforms in Elder Care

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Governor Proposes Reforms in Elder Care

Article excerpt

Gov. Jeb Bush jumped into Florida's nursing home controversy yesterday by proposing the state limit damage awards in lawsuits and spend millions to improve staffing and offer care alternatives for seniors.

Bush's proposal for what he called an "elder-friendly" Florida revived the nursing home industry's hopes for tort reform.

Those hopes were dashed after a state-appointed task force on long-term care disbanded last month in Jacksonville, unable to agree on a single recommendation to the Legislature. Some members objected that a draft report written by the task force staff recommended eliminating punitive damages when nursing homes are sued for providing poor care.

"I think it's good he's not letting this just die," Bennett Napier, executive director of the Florida Life Care Residents Association, said of Bush's proposal.

"After that meeting in Jacksonville, everybody just threw their hands up," said Napier, whose group represents people who live in assisted living centers.

Nursing homes and assisted living centers that have never been sued are blaming their skyrocketing liability insurance rates on a flood of lawsuits against other nursing homes in recent years.

The long-term care industry has asked lawmakers to make it harder to sue them. Meanwhile, they are charging residents and the state Medicaid system more to cover the rising costs.

Trial attorneys say the nursing home industry has caused the problem by tolerating homes that provide poor care. They say it would be unfair to make it harder to sue without instituting tougher regulatory enforcement and quality improvements.

Florida ranks almost last among states in providing funding for alternatives to nursing homes, such as housekeeping and transportation services for seniors who can live at home.

"There's got to be some middle ground here," Bush said yesterday while touring Miami and Tampa to promote his proposals.

He said he recognized tort reform was controversial and that it alone would not solve Florida's problems. But he said the lawsuit issue is a serious threat to the availability of care.

"To ignore it -- we do it at our peril," he said.

Bush is asking the Legislature to provide $46 million to help nursing homes hire more staff and to increase funding by $52.4 million to expand other alternatives for seniors. …

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