Julio Fuentes: New approach needed to address rising costs, population influx in Florida nursing homes

Working in Miami for 20 years, I came to recognize the critical role nursing homes play in the Hispanic community.

These facilities and their residents weren’t isolated from the surrounding neighborhoods, they were an integral part of daily life. Kids were brought up around these homes, learning to respect and care for the revered senior members of their community.

The family has always been at the heart of the Hispanic community, and in our culture taking care of our elders is an important and natural role.

But times are different now, and the gift of living longer means families are increasingly turning to nursing homes when the care needed by their loved ones is more than they can provide.

So, while the Florida Legislature’s first-draft budgets have just taken an important step toward recognizing the importance of properly funding our state’s long-term care centers, there is so much more to do.

Speaker José Oliva is right in saying that innovative approaches must be taken when it comes to meeting the health care needs of our aging population.

Nationally, about 1 in 8 long-term care workers are Hispanic. These individuals play an important part in keeping Florida a national leader in quality care for our state’s senior population. However, their work is not easy, and it does not come without its times of frustration and heartache.

Too often these challenges, paired with low wages, drive committed and skilled staff members to look for other careers that will pay better for less grueling work.

With the ever-rising tide of aging Baby Boomers who call Florida home and the complex, multi-faceted needs they bring with them, nursing homes are facing new challenges. Failure to address those challenges will cause a trickle-down impact on our local economy.

Our nursing homes employ hundreds of caregivers who are dedicated to the work they do, but the facilities’ ability to pay them a competitive wage is limited by a reimbursement system that is failing to keep pace with the rising costs of delivering care.

When skilled staff is eliminated or limited because state funding falls short, nursing home residents will experience a steep decline in the quality of care that they and their families deserve and expect.

At the same, time caregivers will struggle to support themselves and their families, adding more stress to an important but already challenging career choice.

Florida’s elderly population is the backbone of our great state and our nation, and these individuals — many of whom are a part of the Greatest Generation — are counting on nursing homes and their staff members to care for them when they need it most.

During this 2020 Legislative Session, Florida lawmakers have multiple opportunities to make our seniors a priority.

In addition to a funding increase, the Legislature also has a prime opportunity to remove barriers to nurse practitioner care. Allowing these highly skilled nurse practitioners to treat patients to the full extent of their training will dramatically expand access to care for elderly residents, particularly in rural communities.

As a businessman, father and son, I take pride in knowing that Hispanic workers play an important part in keeping Florida a national leader in quality care for our state’s senior population.

As this noble age group continues to populate our counties and cities, creating a continually growing demand for qualified caregivers, I look to the Legislature to provide recurring and predictable funding for our state’s nursing homes.

It’s the right decision for Florida’s families, its communities and its economy.


Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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