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Senate committee calls for a Baker Act study instead of expanding nurse practitioner role

The state's nurse practitioners were hopeful that a Senate vote on Monday would bring them one step closer to what they see as a crucial need in Florida's mental health care system: having the authority to initiate involuntary examinations under the Baker Act. Instead, what the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee passed was the formation of a "work group" to figure out how to improve the 41-year-old Florida Mental Health Act before giving other groups the ability to commit a patient who could hurt themselves or others.

The committee passed an amendment to Senate Bill 110 by 8-0, requiring that a group be established to determine the revisions necessary to improve the "efficiency and effeciveness" of the Baker Act and file a report by Jan. 1, 2014.

Committee Chair Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said she had "a lot of concerns about the Baker Act" and thought the amendment would "help this committee get a better grasp of what is going on out there so we can be more effective and have quality care for those people who have suicidal tendencies."

Sobel also said she had concerns about what happens afer a person is committed under the Baker Act and the type of treatment they receive.

While looking at the decades-old Baker Act, is a "good idea," said Susan Lynch, CEO and chair of the Florida Association of Nurse Practitioners, "the thing we are concerned about, is that in the interim, nurse practitioners would not be able to sign Baker Act forms and this puts Floridians at risk." The bill would also expand the authority to physician assistants.

The House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Daphne Campbell,D-Miami, passed the chamber March 13th. The Senate bill is expected to be heard in the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday.

Stan Whittaker, chairman of the Florida Association of Nurse Practitioners, said the state's 13,000 nurse practitioners are still looking for action this year. "I applaud the (Children, Families and Elders Affairs) committee for moving the bill forward" but getting nurse practitioners and physician assistants on board "could run concurrent with a study. It's something that's needed now."

Richard Stone contributed to this article.