TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida Senate panel on Monday advanced a bill aimed at relaxing state rules to allow more nursing homes to be built in large retirement havens.
Backed by The Villages, a sprawling retirement community with more than 100,000 residents northwest of Orlando, the legislation aims to carve out exemptions to a long-standing limit on new nursing homes in a state known as a magnet for the elderly.
The bill (SB 1482) was advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-3 vote, clearing a key hurdle as supporters try to push it toward the full Senate in the final weeks of Florida’s 60-day legislative session. Similar legislation is being considered in the state House.
The measure voted on Monday would create limited exemptions to a moratorium more than 10 years old on state approval of new nursing home beds. The bill would create exceptions for areas including The Villages and in a handful of other large retirement communities in the Sunshine State.
Republican Sen. Alan Hays, the bill’s sponsor, said the lack of enough nursing home beds close to The Villages causes hardships. He recounted the situation of one elderly resident who had to make a 40-mile roundtrip to visit her husband in a nursing home during the final seven months of his life.
He said the shortage of nursing home space has become acute in The Villages, which ranks as one of the country’s fast-growing communities. That justifies the proposal, he said, to allow the bypassing of a state review known as the certificate of need process to build nursing homes for the community.
The bill’s opponents countered that the bill would create a patchwork system that appears to play favorites.
“When we take this approach to CON, and violate the rules that all of us have stood by and followed, it begs the question, ‘Are there others that are above the law?'” said Steve Bogomilsky, who runs a company that operates nursing homes in Florida.
Bogomilsky, whose company recently developed a 120-bed nursing home close to The Villages, disputed the claims that the retirement community has a shortage of nursing home beds. He said there’s only an 80 percent occupancy rate for the more than 1,000 beds in the area.
ther opponents said that any changes to the certificate of need process should be comprehensive and not be done in piecemeal fashion.
In presenting the bill to the committee, Hays said, “My personal opinion, the whole certificate of need process is anti-American, it is anti-free enterprise, it’s anti-competitive. I think we ought to do away with all of it. But that’s not the purpose of this bill.”
The intent is to provide sufficient nursing home beds in fast-growing retirement communities like The Villages, he said.
Specifically, his bill would create exemptions from the state review process for deed-restricted retirement communities in counties in which at least 25 percent of their populations are 65 or older and there is a demonstrated shortage of nursing home beds.
Supporters said five Florida counties would currently qualify — Sumter, Indian River, Collier, Marion and Hernando.
The moratorium was approved by state lawmakers in 2001. It deals with the addition of nursing-home beds but doesn’t necessarily block the construction of new nursing homes. A nursing home company could shift beds from an existing facility to a new one.
The moratorium was meant as a way to put more emphasis on services provided to seniors in their homes and communities. The issue carries big financial consequences for the state, since the Medicaid program supports nursing home care for tens of thousands of seniors.