April 29, 2021

Florida Legislature codifies use of personal-care attendants in long-term care centers

TALLAHASSEE — A measure passed by the Florida Legislature would allow long-term care facilities to…

TALLAHASSEE — A measure passed by the Florida Legislature would allow long-term care facilities to continue to employ “personal-care attendants” to help with basic duties and would give the attendants four months to pass a certified nursing assistant exam to keep working in the facilities.

The legislation codifies a state emergency order issued in March 2020 in response to staffing shortages that allowed nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to hire personal-care attendants who had undergone 8 hours of training. The legislation increases the amount of training to 16 hours.

The measure passed the House, 106-11, and the Senate, 32-7. It goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, voiced his opposition to the bill during Monday’s session. Personal-care attendants can help with non-medical tasks, he said, but they should not count toward a facility’s minimum staffing requirements.

“There is a potential here for the lessening of the standard of care for our most vulnerable and fragile patients,” Farmer said.

The state requires long-term care facilities to provide each resident with at least 3.6 hours of direct care a day. Certified nursing assistants must deliver at least 2.5 hours of direct care, the state has said, and at least one hour must be delivered by a nurse. The bill would allow the work of personal-care attendants to count toward that staffing requirement.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said the bill was workshopped with stakeholders and would help facilities fill staffing gaps and give patients more care.

“We’re extremely pleased,” said Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, an industry group representing nursing homes. Making the program permanent will help lessen staffing shortages in long-term care facilities, she added.

AARP Florida and other advocacy groups have opposed the bill, arguing that it allows already short-staffed facilities to use less-trained people to help meet their staffing standards.

AARP Florida was pushing to increase the amount of training for personal-care attendants to 40 hours, said Zayne Smith, associate state director of advocacy for the organization.

AARP agrees that this measure would help fill jobs at facilities, he said, but “it cannot be done to the detriment of the residents.” The legislation does not allow attendants to make clinical assessments or judgments, he said, but they are still feeding and helping people with dementia, which takes training.