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Seniors, health groups fight The Villages nursing home bid

Florida's long-term care industry and the nation's leading voice for the elderly joined forces Monday to criticize pending legislation to allow a nursing home on the grounds of The Villages, the giant
retirement community in central Florida.

The Florida Health Care Association and AARP urged defeat of bills that would grant a single
exception to the state's process for evaluating the need for new nursing  home beds. The Villages is a mecca for Republican votes and is owned by  Gary Morse, a major Republican Party donor, so its agenda is never taken lightly in the state Capitol.

"We hope the Legislature recognizes the need for a more inclusive approach," said Deborah
Franklin of FHCA, "and not just the needs of private developers."

Jack McRay of the AARP said giving special treatment to a single developer is bad policy because it would drive up the costs of nursing home beds elsewhere and make home- and community-based services less attractive to consumers. "Let's not distort the long-term care market," McRay said.

Also  speaking out against the proposal was Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, who said: "We should protect all seniors, not just one community." Two weeks ago, the Senate leadership removed the Villages legislation from Garcia's health appropriations subcommittee where his opposition would
have been formidable.

Joining the opponents was Steve Bogomilsky, operator of a 120-bed skilled nursing care facility located right outside The Villages, one of two nearby homes that have opened in the past year. He said 20 percent of the existing beds within a five-mile radius of The Villages are empty.

The bills to grant The Villages a nursing home exemption have been filed by local lawmakers:
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake. Hays'  bill (SB 1482) passed on a 6-3 party-line vote Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee and O'Toole's bill (HB 1159) faces a hearing Tuesday in the House Health & Human Services Committee. 

-- Steve Bousquet