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Speaker forecasts no nursing home fixes

Rep. John Thrasher says agreement is elusive on helping the struggling industry and speaks again of a special summer session.

By JO BECKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- After repeatedly raising alarms about Florida's struggling nursing home industry, House Speaker John Thrasher said Friday he is increasingly doubtful that any fixes are in the offing this legislative session.

"We're not anywhere near a consensus," he said. "I'm probably not going to spend a whole lot more time on this."

Thrasher again raised the possibility of a special session to deal with problems in the nursing home industry, possibly this summer. Gov. Jeb Bush has also raised that possibility.

There are 123 Florida nursing homes, or 20 percent of the state's 82,000 nursing home beds, operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Over the past year, seven national nursing home chains have filed for Chapter 11.

The industry wants lawmakers to make it more difficult for nursing home residents to sue over unsatisfactory care. Raising the specter of mass closings, industry members have pointed out that companies willing to provide legal liability insurance to nursing homes have left the the state, and premiums are rising.

Thrasher agrees that something needs to be done, but for the first time he said it should be part of an overall package of reforms. "It's not just liability issues -- there's quality issues," he said. "The nursing home industry has to face up to it."

Bush has suggested that the Legislature increase Medicaid payments to nursing homes that treat the poor. But Thrasher said the industry has been hit with such deep Medicare cuts by the federal government that the state doesn't have enough money to bail out nursing homes.

Lawyers and advocates for the elderly have said the nursing home industry has only itself to blame for the multimillion-dollar court judgments it has paid.

Senate President Toni Jennings is not convinced that the industry is in the dire condition it suggests. Moreover, she is still waiting for a plan.

"How can there be consensus? There's no plan," said Jennings' spokeswoman Edie Ousley.

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