Bill aims to make personal care attendants fixtures in long-term care facilities

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida House on Wednesday gave tentative approval for long-term care facilities to substitute a new class of employees, known as personal care attendants, for some of the duties of certified nursing assistants.

The AARP and others argue that long-term care facilities and nursing homes want to get by on the cheap to fill required hours of care, but facility representatives have said meeting requirements for care would be almost impossible without PCAs.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, long-term care facilities were dealing with staffing shortages. But as the pandemic wore on, the state approved the use of personal care attendants in these facilities by emergency order.

“We have a workforce crisis,” said Kristen Knapp, a spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association. “We need to bring more people into our buildings.”

State Rep. Sam Garrison is sponsoring legislation to make PCAs a permanent fixture in these facilities.

“We want to see more CNA positions that are vacant now, filled. We want to see more and more people in these positions,” Garrison said.

Currently there are roughly 7,000 vacancies in these facilities throughout the state of Florida.

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are required by law to provide an average of two-and-a-half hours of care a day to each resident at a long-term care facilities. They must also have at least 40 hours of training.

“That’s what we ask for. Why not require 40 hours for personal care attendants? Our issue, though is the risk that we are putting on residents,” said Zayne Smith with the AARP of Florida.

While AARP supports the idea of having personal care attendants in long-term facilities, the group has expressed concerns about PCAs having only two days of classroom instruction before going to work.

“You know, they got the liability protection,” Smith said. “Now they are wanting to use lesser paid, lesser qualified staff in the facilities. Let’s not forget if they have a negligent act, they’re not going to be able to be sued.”

The Florida Health Care Association doesn’t agree.

“I don’t think less qualified is a fair statement,” Knapp said. “These individuals go through a training. They have to demonstrate they are competent.”

The industry describes personal care attendants as paid interns that will free up certified nursing assistants to provide more hands-on resident services.

Representatives for long-term care facilities say caring for aging residents will be more difficult and expensive without PCAs.