Bill Paves Way For New Assisted Living Construction in Florida

Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that served as a model for increasing oversight and accountability without unduly burdening assisted living providers. Now, the state again passed a stage-setting measure to uniformly update fire safety codes in assisted living communities, allowing for modernization in new construction.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz) and Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa), goes into effect July 1 and replaces a 22-year-old code with language that allows newer codes to be adopted down the line. It also ensures that already-built assisted living buildings or projects issued a construction permit before that date can remain under the governance of the Life Safety Codes of 1994 and 1995.

Under the new code, specifications around corridor length and width are loosened, and it allows for fixed seating in hallways, which previously had been deemed a fire hazard. It goes on to allow staff to help residents with transfers in the event of evacuations whereas that previously wasn’t permitted.

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“Quality of life sometimes trumps a pure consideration for evacuation,” FL ALFA’s Vice President of Public Policy Susan Anderson tells Senior Housing News. FL ALFA is the Florida chapter of Argentum (formerly the Assisted Living Federation of America), representing companies that operated senior living communities and other companies involved in senior living operations in the state. The chapter name will change to Argentum Florida in coming months.

The main goal with the bill was to improve consistency across Florida’s 67 counties, Anderson says. With a fire marshal in each county, there were multiple interpretations of how the code should be applied. The changes prove particularly beneficial for developers constructing in multiple Florida counties.

“By updating the fire code, we’ll all be on the same page,” she says.

Beyond that, it brings the code up-to-date and accounts for wireless technology and other advances, whereas the previous code mainly had to do with sprinkler installation and different ways to handle evacuations.

While the measure is geared toward new construction and there’s no requirement for retrofitting in order to be in compliance with the new code, Anderson says alterations might be a consideration for some existing communities to remain competitive.

“If you’re an existing building, and you want to compete with the new building across the street, you can take advantage of new opportunities in the newer code and make a choice that you’ll operate under it,” she says. “It’s all just a business decision on the part of the community.”

The bill’s passage comes as The Villages, a retirement community in Florida, was recently named the fastest-growing metro area for the third year in a row, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Other bills signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott this year that relate to senior living include:

  • Community Residential Facilities: This bill ensures that there is at least a 1,200-foot radius between community residential homes, including assisted living communities housing one to 14 residents. The purpose here is to maintain the character of certain neighborhoods without overrunning them with ambulances, for example.
  • Telehealth: This bill is an effort to standardize telehealth and increase access to medical care. It provides a definition of telehealth and creates a task force to come up with a more comprehensive policy on how to best provide the service in the state.
  • Nurse Licensure Compact: Under this bill, Florida joins 25 other states to allow nurses to work across state lines. FL ALFA believes this will help to ease a shortage of nurses, allow them more flexibility and eventually reduce health care costs.
  • Transparency: Gov. Scott signed a bill aimed at ensuring further consumer access to health care price and quality information by requiring certain health care providers, insurers and health maintenance organizations to provide such data to patients. An Internet-based health information platform will be developed to allow consumers to search and compare providers’ price and quality.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

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