Those working in nursing homes and long-term facilities have had a horrendous year. This is a time to support and thank them, not demean them like some trial lawyers are doing in their self-serving fight to prevent COVID liability protections for healthcare workers.
This is the message of the CEO and Executive Director of the Florida Health Care Association Emmett Reed to Floridians, lawmakers and those trial lawyers spewing contempt.
In an emailed statement to The Capitolist, attorney John Morgan of Morgan and Morgan expressed his opposition to COVID liability protection for healthcare workers legislation currently in the Florida House and Senate by calling nursing homes “filthy murder factories.”
“It makes my blood boil to hear anybody disparage the heroes that work in nursing homes,” said Reed with disgust. “I mean it is absolutely inflammatory language just to get more potential lawsuits against nursing homes. The nursing homes were the first hit by the pandemic, and will be probably the last out of the pandemic. We’ve handled it in Florida probably better than just about anybody. We have got to protect these healthcare workers. We’ve got to have this liability protection to protect not only the nursing home owners but also the staff.”
“These lawyers are going to bring these frivolous lawsuits. They’re going to pull caregivers off the floor from taking care of patients so they can be deposed and ask the nastiest of nasty questions that you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t make any sense and it’s not right,” he continued. “The trial bar is relentless in its pursuit to stop any type of tort reform no matter how noble it is.”
Reed said he is confident that his side of the story is being heard by the Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis but “until it is signed by the Governor, it’s going to be an epic battle.”
Reed said he can’t imagine the hurt a healthcare worker must feel when they just spent a grueling, emotional day at a nursing home or long-term healthcare facility and they come home, and read or hear on TV statements like Morgan’s.
“This year has been like nothing we’ve been through before. I’ve never seen our members handle the level of difficulty of this year,” Reed said.
He explained pre-pandemic residents lived in a home-like setting where they ate with friends in communal dining rooms and freely welcomed visitors and family daily. Once the pandemic hit, caregivers were forced to isolate their residents for months from everyone, separating them from all their friends and denying family members the right to visit their elderly loved ones. The transition was heart wrenching — for those residents, for those family members and for those caregivers.
“You know, those were tough times, and then on top of that, especially in the early months, we had a PPE shortage. We had members making their own homemade masks and wearing garbage bags for gowns, and they still went into the nursing homes to take care of these frail, elderly residents. They were heroes,” Reed said.
He said some of the facilities experienced staff turnover rates as high as 65 to 70 percent and many of the caregivers now suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress-type symptoms.
“We are facing a shortage of staff at a crisis level and a big reason is because of the emotional toll that has been taken on the caregivers in nursing homes,” he explained.
“(The beginning of the pandemic) was such a crazy and devastating time,” he said, “you know, trying to keep COVID out of the nursing homes and every single day getting different directions from different governmental organizations and entities just made the job that much more difficult. But, at the end of the day, I’m really proud of them and the ones that are have remained are just truly caregivers at heart.”
These staff shortages have led Reed to push the Florida Legislature to make the personal care attendant (PCA) program permanent.
The Agency for Health Care Administration approved the PCA program in the early stages of the pandemic last March, to give nursing centers additional staff to meet residents’ care needs while also meeting minimum staffing requirements. The program expanded the long-term care workforce by creating a pathway for individuals to learn the skills to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and gave out-of-work Floridians an entry point into the long-term care profession.
The PCA Program has shown proven success since it was established, with over 1,000 individuals joining the long-term care workforce as PCAs to date. However, the program will expire when the COVID-19 State of Emergency ends unless the Legislature makes it permanent.
“The need great. It is difficult to replace these healthcare workers quickly enough. We need thousands and thousands of new caregivers. As many as will come we will take,” Reed said.
Staffing is not the only thing that has declined in Florida nursing homes. Many elderly are delaying entering nursing homes due to the fear of COVID and the fear of not seeing family members once they enter. Another reason is that people are putting off surgeries, such as knee replacement surgery, which means they are not staying at the rehab wing of nursing homes.
Reed said in Florida, typically nursing homes and long-term facilities are 90 percent full. Now, due to COVID, the census is down considerably throughout the state with these facilities at only about 70 percent.
Reed said, “That’s a recipe for financial disaster.”
To address these financial needs FHCA is also pushing the Legislature to extend Medicaid funding.
Florida nursing homes are chronically underfunded by Medicaid, according to Reed. “And so, while we greatly appreciate the Governor preserving our funding (last year) and we hope that the House and Senate do the same, it’s still just keeping our noses above water. Lets just say we’re getting a handle on the pandemic going into next year. People are vaccinated. We’ve hit herd immunity. There are things that are not going to go away after this pandemic. The infection control protocol has increased which means maintenance costs, like house cleaning, have increased. There will be a higher cost to attract employees into nursing homes. We’re not going to be the same as we were before we went into this thing,” Reed said.
People opting out of moving into nursing homes and long-term facilities not only has disastrous results for the facilities, it also can be a disaster for those putting off much needed care.
“Nursing homes are no longer ‘old folks homes’. They are truly a clinical resource for the community to take care of loved ones that cannot or should not be taken care of at home. There are inherent dangers for untrained people trying to care for higher acuity cases. Nursing homes are absolutely necessary. We don’t want people being so scared to put their loved one in a nursing home because of COVID that they that they might compromise their safety at home,” Reed said.
“Right now 98 percent of all nursing home residences are COVID-free and 97 percent of all nursing home employees are COVID-free, which is a an astounding number,” he continued, “so, it is a safe place to go and we would just encourage people to make sure that they’re keeping their loved ones best interest at heart and not caring for somebody they’re not qualified or able to care for.”
“We’re going to need nursing homes in the future for Florida’s population. These places have to be viable. They have to be funded properly and, my goodness, their employees need to be respected and not demeaned by people like John Morgan,” Reed said.