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Sarasota Herald Tribune

Careful with nursing home cuts

Saving on inspections should not come at the expense of vulnerable residents

Monday, March 30, 2009

Two local legislators have introduced bills designed, they say, to reduce duplication and save the state money on nursing home inspections. In this time of fiscal austerity brought on by the collapse of the state's housing industry and the national recession, lawmakers are called upon to find ways to cut expenses. Certainly, duplication of services would be a logical place to start. But any reduction in expenses must be weighed against the value of the services that will be reduced.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, says his Senate Bill 1562 will eliminate inspections by the Department of Health and the state fire marshal that are also done by the Agency for Health Care, though on a less frequent basis. He says nursing home staff could spend more time with patients if they didn't have to do unnecessary paperwork and deal with frequent inspections.

Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, who has introduced a bill similar to Bennett's in the House, says it is an attempt to streamline government.

Point taken. However, if streamlining government comes at the expense of one of society's most vulnerable populations, it may be at too great a cost.

It is interesting to note that Bennett and Roberson represent two counties that have among the oldest populations in the nation. Their constituents stand to be affected by this legislation more than those in areas where the populations represent a younger demographic.

It is also worth noting that Bennett and Roberson have received campaign contributions from nursing home interests, including the Florida Health Care Association.

An initial review of the Senate bill estimates that eliminating duplicative inspections could save $350,000. That is not a small sum, but it is hardly significant when the state needs to cut billions.

More and more today, older Americans are living independently or with the assistance of family and friends, thus reducing the need for nursing home care. Improvements in this arena are likely to continue as more people are living longer and in better health.

Still, high-quality nursing homes continue to be a vital service for those who are alone and too sick or frail to care for themselves. It is essential that these people be cared for in the safest, cleanest, most efficiently operated environment possible.

State oversight efforts that assure the best care should be maintained, even in difficult economic times.


This story appeared in print on page A12