President Reagan once noted, “Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in’.”  Florida has gone to great lengths over the years to lead our nation in the quality of care we provide for our elders, and we have made tremendous strides in recent years. But new opportunities remain, as do significant challenges, and this year has a big share of each.

Emmett Reed

At the Florida Health Care Association, we are all too familiar with the challenges facing those who care for the more frail members of America’s greatest generation. Our organization represents 82 percent of the 600-plus skilled nursing centers across Florida, providing the best care possible for over 71,000 long term care residents. The 280,000 dedicated employees who provide high-quality care have a passion for meeting the needs of seniors, and it’s something we’ve been doing for more than 60 years.

We applaud the Legislature for tackling this complicated issue, and the result of this hard work will be a payment system that is, for the first time ever, tied to health quality outcomes. Think about that – Florida could have a reimbursement system that rewards a commitment to quality, something we have never had.

Our current system simply reimburses providers for the costs associated with operating their nursing centers. Our members have for years been investing extensive resources to upgrade the centers and improve the quality of life for their residents. They have made investments far beyond what the state requires and reimburses in order to improve services that greatly enrich the lives of residents. Moving forward, we want to create incentives not just based on what centers spend, but to actually reward the ones that invest in their resident’s health and comfort for their twilight years.

Change is never easy.  But FHCA members have looked beyond current “winners and losers” to help create a reimbursement model that puts the interests of their residents at the forefront. Under the system being considered for the state budget, all homes will have the same opportunity to succeed. This plan is supported by the overwhelming number of nursing centers in Florida, all of whom have had a seat at the table. I am so proud that many of our members have testified publicly in support of this new system, even though their centers are doing well under the status quo.  They have already invested valuable resources on recent capital improvements, and they recognize the proposed system will be far more beneficial for their residents and those living in care centers across Florida.

Unfortunately, a small but vocal number of providers have weighed in against the legislation. They argue that under the improved model Florida’s quality nursing centers will lose money. That assertion is, frankly, incorrect. Under the plan, over 300 four- and five-star rated centers will receive over $26 million in added funding, and a three-year transition period will allow time for all homes to adjust their care systems to the new plan. Our seniors deserve more than a shortsighted approach, and the vast majority of care centers – more than 550 of Florida’s nursing centers  – are embracing this change. We are united on this issue.

I encourage the Legislature to pass this important legislation.  Let’s continue to be a model for the nation in how to improve elder care across the spectrum of services.  Quality of care and quality of life should, and can, go hand in hand. Our residents deserve nothing less.

Emmett Reed is Executive Director of the Florida Health Care Association

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