Florida gives nursing homes greater flexibility to fill empty beds

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Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill that will give nursing homes greater flexibility to use beds for other purposes if they can't fill them. Both the state House and Senate voted unanimously on Bill S.B. 1062, which goes into effect July 1.

The average occupancy rates for nursing homes in the state is about 87%, with some homes as low as 50%. Under the new legislation, nursing homes will be able to fill empty beds without undergoing a burdensome regulatory process.

Lawmakers approved a bill in 2001 that put a moratorium on certificates of need for nursing home construction. It was the state's effort to limit Medicaid nursing home expenditures -- and invest funds in community-based care. However, the moratorium did not provide exceptions for nursing homes that closed -- and thus forfeited their licenses, according to the Bureau for National Affairs.

Under the new law, Florida can issue an "inactive license" to a nursing home that temporarily stops serving residents. The bill also revises the certificate of need requirements so the government can review a proposed replacement facility or a project to relocate some of the nursing home beds more quickly. The bill also increases the number of beds that a "Gold Seal" facility (a facility in great standing) may add without a certificate of need review from 10 to 20, or 10% of the home's licensed beds, whichever is greater.