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Two colleagues rally to embattled lawmaker's defense

A health care group has criticized Argenziano for her refusal to support caps on lawsuit damages.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Two powerful people are speaking up for state Rep. Nancy Argenziano, whom the nursing home industry -- or a part of it, anyway -- has targeted for attack.

The Florida Health Care Association is a trade group that represents nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Through its advocacy arm, called Protect Our Parents, the group has demonstrated outside Argenziano's local office and published full-page newspaper advertisements criticizing the lawmaker's stand on nursing home lawsuits.

Her error, in the group's opinion, is failing to support a move to cap damages. The group hoped for a different reaction from Argenziano, who served on the state task force that studied elder care and also wields legislative influence as chairwoman of the House's Council for Healthy Communities.

Now weighing in on Argenziano's behalf is House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo. The speaker said nursing home reform is a top priority for the House and said his Republican colleague from Crystal River is "facing a heavy responsibility to balance quality care of the health care industry and tort reform issues."

The speaker said he supports groups' right to free speech. "However, I have a true concern that special interest groups are beginning to show the signs of intimidation efforts," he said.

"The House of Representatives has yet to start the process of crafting nursing home reform," Feeney said, "and it would be a shame if these special interest groups poisoned the well and disabled us from having a fair and deliberative and successful approach to the debate."

Separately, House Majority Leader Mike Fasano praised Argenziano last week during the annual Lincoln Day Dinner in Citrus Hills. He called her a leader in the fight to balance residents' rights and the needs of nursing homes.

Argenziano said she has studied the issue intently and is working with colleagues to craft legislation that would provide some lawsuit relief but also satisfy requests for better nursing home care.

She said she declined to support task force recommendations concerning lawsuit limits because the language came from staff, not the members.

Meanwhile, she continues seeking more specific, documented evidence from nursing home companies that claim frivolous lawsuits are driving liability insurance rates sky high and forcing homes to close. She doesn't doubt the rate increases, but she said the industry has not adequately demonstrated that its proposed remedy is the most appropriate.

In other medical news:

Alliance progressing: A newly reshaped community alliance is making steady progress toward its goal: helping the Department of Children and Families coordinate social services in Citrus County and shift foster care and related work from state control to private providers.

The alliance was born from the Shared Services Network, which helped service providers stay in touch with each other. Now called the Shared Services Alliance of Citrus County, the group has expanded membership and taken on the new Children and Families issues.

The alliance met last week and agreed to continue meeting monthly, with an eye toward reducing that schedule to quarterly meetings. A steering committee, made up of staffers from Children and Families and providers, will meet more regularly to gather data and develop recommendations for the alliance.

Last year, state lawmakers disbanded the health and human services boards that once oversaw Children and Families operations. In the boards' place, the Legislature created community alliances for each county; members would be key decisionmakers and social-service providers in each county. So far, Citrus has made better progress than surrounding counties, Children and Families officials said.

Open house set: Citrus Memorial Hospital is sponsoring an open house at its newest primary care center. Citrus Primary Care Beverly Hills is at 450 W Roosevelt Blvd., across from the Central Ridge Library. During the open house, from 2 to 4 p.m. March 8, residents may tour the office and meet Lee McCaskill, the board-certified family practice physician who practices there. Citrus Primary Care has several other clinics throughout Citrus.

See the helicopter: Curious about the new Aeromed helicopter now serving Citrus County? You can see it and meet the flight crew between 9:30 a.m. and noon Thursday in the southeast corner of Citrus Memorial Hospital's main parking lot, 502 W Highland Blvd.

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