TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Warning of a staffing shortfall that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the leaders of Florida's nursing home industry on Monday called for state lawmakers to consider devoting more money to recruiting and retaining nurses and nursing assistants during the 2022 legislative session.

What You Need To Know

  • Florida's nursing home leaders alert lawmakers to severe staff shortage

  • They asked legislators for more funding for recruiting and training

  • The COVID-19 pandemic worsened an already bad situation, leaders said

  • Direct care staff costs have climbed $300 million yearly since the pandemic began

During a Tallahassee roundtable sponsored by the Florida Health Care Association, the heads of the industry's largest trade organizations bemoaned what they called a nearly unprecedented exodus of nursing home staff amid increasing workplace challenges and competition from nursing temp agencies.

"It's not necessarily something where you can snap your finger and nurses will materialize," Justin Senior, the chief executive officer of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, told the forum.

Florida's nursing homes have seen their direct care staff costs increase by an estimated $300 million annually since the pandemic began, he said. That accounted for a little less than half of the organization's total pandemic-related additional costs.

"Our staff have said, 'enough is enough' and they've just decided to get out of the business altogether," Florida Senior Living Association President and CEO Gail Matillo said. "How much more is this going to take before something's done? We really need help."

Specifically, the leaders are asking lawmakers to devote more state funding to nursing apprenticeship grants and a trust fund that forgives the student loans of nursing students.

In an ideal scenario, "any individual that wanted to be a CNA, the state would pay for it," Home Care Association of Florida Executive Director Bobby Lolley said. "The state would take care of it, just like that."

The proposal could encounter resistance from small government-minded conservatives, who carry tremendous sway in the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature. The official 2022 legislative session begins in January, although lawmakers will be in Tallahassee later this month for a special session regarding COVID-19-related mandates.