No Place Like Home

LAST year Florida legislators passed a law that would allow residents of licensed retirement homes to postpone or avoid moving to a nursing home if they became ill. Current laws require retirement-home tenants to leave when they become very frail or bedridden and need care that these facilities are not equipped to provide.

The new law would permit residents of specially licensed retirement homes, known as extended-congregate-care facilities, to stay until they needed round-the-clock skilled nursing care.

By relaxing the rules, lawmakers hoped to reduce the emotional strain on older people and the financial strain on the state as nursing-home costs continue to rise.

But the measure has been stalled by a group of nursing-home operators who argue that the guidelines are too vague. They say the proposals make it possible for retirement homes to compete with nursing homes, where regulations are tougher. Critics of that argument counter that the nursing-home operators are simply worried about losing business.

To be sure, the new rules would place extra responsibilities on administrators of extended-care retirement homes. Staff members would require special training, and a nurse would have to be available. Yet these facilities could still demand that residents leave under certain medical and physical conditions. As an added protection, people already in nursing homes would not be allowed to move into the special retirement homes.

"Aging in place," the concept behind the law, deserves attention, not only in Florida, where nearly one-fifth of residents are over 65, but in 30 other states that evict retirement-home residents who are ill for a specified number of consecutive days. State estimates put the cost of extended-care retirement homes at $1,000 to $1,200 a month, compared with $2,000 to $2,500 for nursing homes. For financial and humanitarian reasons, the concept is inviting.

If legislators can clarify rules, ensuring adequate care for residents and needed flexibility for retirement-home administrators, these measures will be a progressive step. They affirm the dignity of older people while doing practical justice to the cliche: There's no place like home.

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