'Residents' Bill of Rights' pulled from constitutional consideration

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The sponsor of a proposal that would have added a “Nursing Home and Assisted Living Facility Residents' Bill of Rights” to the Florida constitution withdrew it from consideration by the state Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday, according to LeadingAge Florida.

Commissioner Brecht Heuchan had filed Proposal 88 in November, and it passed from the the commission's Declaration of Rights Committee to the full commission in January. There, 22 of the commission's 37 members needed to approve it for it to be placed on November's statewide ballot. Commissioner Don Gaetz had co-introduced the measure.

Tuesday, Heuchan said that obtaining the support from fellow commissioners needed to advance the proposal to the ballot would have required changes that were unacceptable to him, reported the News Service of Florida.

LeadingAge Florida cheered the development.

“As we've said from the beginning, the proposal would have done nothing to improve the lives of nursing home and ALF residents,” LeadingAge Florida CEO Steve Bahmer said in a statement. “Instead, it would only have served to benefit trial attorneys and divert already scarce resources that should be spent on the care of frail seniors.”

Heuchan, according to the news service, is a legislative lobbyist for the Florida Justice Association, which represents plaintiffs' attorneys, and for Wilkes & McHugh, a Tampa, FL, law firm. Biographical information on the commission's website describes him as president and CEO of ContributionLink, a political intelligence, data analytics and fundraising company, and owner of The Labrador Company, a Florida-based political and government affairs firm. He was appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Scott.

In January, Heuchan told McKnight's Senior Living that the proposal was an attempt “to establish a situation where the rights of residents of long-term care facilities are at least on par with the rights of everyone else,” including older adults in the state who do not live in long-term care facilities as well as owners and operators of assisted living communities and nursing homes.

Proposal 88, as introduced, would have required facilities to ensure that they have the financial resources or liability insurance to compensate residents and their families for “any loss, injury, and damage they suffer because of abuse, negligence, neglect, exploitation or violations of residents' rights.” Also under the proposal, the state government could have implemented new audits and required annual cost reports for reimbursement.

Heuchan said he plans to continue to “fight for the rights of the elderly in our state and would welcome all the help I could get.”

Assisted living and skilled nursing operators appear to have dodged a figurative bullet with the withdrawal of the issue. A poll by Clearview Research found that 86% of respondents viewed the proposal favorably, with more than two-thirds of them saying they would vote for it if it made it to the ballot, according to floridapolitics.com.

AARP Florida also supported the measure and in a Thursday letter urged commissioners to vote to put it on November's statewide ballot. “AARP believes it most appropriate that NH and ALF residents be safeguarded with the full weight of the state Constitution,” AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson wrote.

After Heuchan's withdrawal of the proposal on Tuesday, a spokesman for the organization told McKnight's Senior Living, “We thank Commissioners Heuchan and Gaetz for their work on the proposal and look forward to future discussion of how to ensure quality care for people in elder-care facilities.”

Bahmer said LeadingAge Florida is focused on quality as well.

The organization, he said, is “pleased that Proposal 88 will be withdrawn, so that nursing homes and ALFs can continue their good work, focusing financial resources on maintaining the high-quality services they already are providing.”

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