Depending on which statistics you look at, Florida is now second in the nation for the veteran population.
That is 1.5 million people who have some sort of military experience under their belt. Then comes the more eye-opening number. "Half of our veterans in Florida are over the age of 65," says retired Lt. Col. Steve Murray with the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs.
Murray says Florida also has 165,000 veterans who are over the age of 85. Those numbers have meant the state's nursing homes specifically built and geared for veterans are woefully behind in keeping up with Florida's aging veteran population.
The Sunshine State now has six veterans nursing homes and one assisted-living facility. The Department is about to open two new veterans' nursing homes in the next few months. "By the end of '22 we'll actually have nine veterans homes in Florida," says Murray. It will give Florida the most veterans nursing homes in the United States but it will still not be enough. Recent estimates project a shortage of 4400 beds for veterans in the next 5-10 years.
In an effort to offset the shortage the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs uses other bed space at residential nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the state. The FDVA also knows the answer to the "silver tsunami" is more than just building new nursing homes.
"It's no secret both in the state and nation there's a shortage of healthcare professionals. Registered nurses, LPNs, certified nursing assistants. And as the economy is coming back up the minimum wage is going back up and employers and retail and the restaurant industry, they're offering a lot more money than the healthcare profession provides," says Murray.
As the waiting list for bed space is expected to grow nationwide in the next decade, the issue is just more than building walls and beds. "We have seen this in other states where they build these wonderful, brick and mortar facilities with beautiful electronics and beds and they lack the healthcare staff to open these facilities," says Murray.
Some good news was delivered from Tallahassee last week. Florida lawmakers approved nearly $4.5 million to go to state veterans' nursing homes to help with immediate staffing shortages.
Many nursing homes have relied on staffing agencies during the pandemic because so many workers have left the profession.