TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida bill aimed at addressing nursing home staff shortages was sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday. He signed it into law on April 6.

House Bill 1239 is designed to reduce the time and certification requirements needed to be a nursing home facility staff member providing direct care to patients.

Direct care is work like helping provide care or services to residents, including nursing services, therapeutic administration or mental health assistance and dietary aid. The bill would allow those who assist with what it calls “medical, nursing, mental and psychosocial needs” for residents work fewer hours per patient in order to assist more residents in the care of a nursing home facility.

Current Florida law requires certified nursing assistants to provide at least 2.5 hours of direct care to each resident each day. Each week, Florida law requires 3.6 hours on average of direct care are given per resident overall, according to legislative analysis.

The bill makes it so any staff member can provide some direct care to meet a total of 3.6 hours on average, and reduces how much care must be given by a licensed nurse to two hours.

The remaining 1.6 hours required for the weekly average required by law would be allowed to be split, with 0.6 hours performed by non-licensed professionals, and the final hour being licensed care per day.

Ultimately, Florida has more than 4.6 million elderly residents in the state, as of 2021. The state’s own Department of Elder Affairs reported 27% of Florida was older than 60 in 2021. Estimates from the federal government predict by 2030, more than 30% of the state population will be older than 60, according to the Administration for Community Living. The same report from the FDEA reported 80% of the state’s elderly population lives at the poverty level and 76% of seniors were on social security benefits.

According to AARP, if the legislation passes, it would mean a 20% cut to nursing care for each patient. They said in practice, “already burned-out CNA staff will have to do more with less help.”

Additionally, the organization said HB 1239 would let nonmedical staff assist “frail and elderly residents get to the bathroom, help them bathe, and perform other critical” daily activities that would normally be done by trained nurses. The bill also weakens current moratoriums on nursing home admissions, which AARP said will allow nursing homes to take on more residents even without having enough staff to care for them.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AARP said nursing home staff are already fatigued and have high resident caseloads. The organization also said facilities are understaffed, and the staff that do work are performing “physically and emotionally demanding work” while having “higher rates of work-injury, limited training, low wages and unaffordable health insurance,” while also not receiving paid leave.

Should DeSantis sign the bill into law, it takes effect immediately. While the bill is meant to address current shortages of staff to care for residents in a growing population of elderly patients in Florida, some senior advocates oppose the bill over its potential impact on quality of care.