Florida is obligated to improve senior care | Opinion

Even with current challenges, Florida remains a perpetual magnet for retirees.

Eventually, many of those retirees will face health concerns and rely on caregivers ranging from family members to nursing homes.

The biggest national organization representing the senior population says the Sunshine State needs to do a better job of caring for them.

AARP recently released its 2023 Long Term Services and Supports Scorecard for the 50 states. Florida ranks a dismal 43rd overall and in the middle of the pack on facility safety and quality. That’s unacceptable in a state that ranks second in the country, behind California, in senior population.

Florida currently has about 71,000 nursing home patients. In the short term, as baby boomers continue to age, those numbers will likely go up.

Even though nursing homes should be able to improve staffing from the height of the COVID pandemic, tweaks to Florida law in recent years may not help. Senior advocates and families of patients are concerned about the qualifications of personal care attendants, approved by the Florida Legislature in 2021. The attendants, PCAs for short, don’t yet have the training or certification of certified nurse assistants. It can be a problem when a patient is dealing with multiple health concerns or if there’s a language barrier.

There’s little public accountability so far on how the changes work, forcing patients and their families to work harder to get information.

And while another AARP study values at-home Florida caregivers’ contributions at $40 billion, this is the worst state in the nation when it comes to financial support for those people.

Nor are seniors served by politics from the state concerning COVID boosters. Both patients and anyone in contact with them, regardless of age, should have the vaccines. Period. The boosters help. The garbage from politicians and their operatives doesn’t.

Florida doesn’t currently have a strong political advocate for seniors like former U.S. Reps. Claude Pepper and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who made the issue of senior care a high public priority.

Pepper once said, “The mistake a lot of politicians make is in forgetting they’ve been appointed and thinking they’ve been anointed.” That’s certainly true in Florida right now.

Perhaps the fact that next year is an election year — and many seniors and their families will be voting — could have an influence on Florida’s elected officials. Now is the time for those seniors and families to make their voices heard.

Sylvia Gurinsky is a tour guide and writer who lives in Davie.