Millions in budget cuts leaves nursing homes no choice but to cut staff

TAMPA - Florida nursing homes face millions of dollars in state budget cuts which some say will wreak havoc on elderly care.

Facilities face $187.5 million in state budget cuts they believe will cripple Medicaid-funded facilities.

Additionally, over the next 10 years, Florida nursing homes will face $2.1 billion in Medicare funding reductions.

Friday, the Coalition to Protect Senior Care met at Palm Garden nursing home in Tampa to sign a ten-foot-long petition to protest.

The coalition plans to send it to Capitol Hill in hopes it will stop even more financial slashing by the federal goverment.

Seventy percent of the funding lost would've paid staff salaries, forcing nursing homes to make tough decisions about their operating budgets once the cuts go into effect July 1.

Most of the staff positions on the line at certified nursing assistants like Palm Garden CNA Sheryle Chambers, who admits she's more than just a nurses aid for residents when they move in.

"Because a lot of them come and drop them off and never see them again. So, we're the family members they see on a daily basis," she said. "The residents are going to suffer, not us."

71-year-old Estella Bryant is one Palm Garden resident who knows well how vital a CNA can be.

When Bryant moved in, she had just recovered from a stroke, and was unable to walk, eat, or bathe on her own.

"I was like a baby," Bryant explained. "I hadn't decided if I wanted to live or choose to die. I felt like I had something to live for so I began to get better."

The "something" she wanted to live for was the staff at Palm Garden, now facing the loss of at least 5 members.

"It hurts me tremendously," said Palm Gardens Director of Nursing Ginny Burgess.

Burgess believes the cuts will challenge their ability to provide patient centered care, where residents have more independence.

"Instead of being a structured medical model where we say when they take their meds and we say when they take their showers," Burgess said.

Their one hope, Burgess says, is the commitment of CNAs like Chambers.

"I'll continue on coming to take care of the residents, even if I lose my job, because I love doing what I'm doing," Chambers said.

Chambers isn't worried about her job. Her concern real concern is how the cuts will effect residents like Bryant.

"I'm happy here. This is my home," Bryant said.

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