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Amended bill on House floor could save Lakeland hospice from closure

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A Lakeland hospice threatened with closure by the state could be saved by a bill making its way through the Florida Legislature.

On Tuesday, Estero Republican state Rep. Ray Rodrigues will introduce an amendment to HB 441, with legislative language to help Compassionate Care Hospice on Drane Field Road to continue serving terminally ill patients.

Earlier this year, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration accused CCH of not submitting required license renewal paperwork by a February deadline. With that, the company’s license had technically expired, according to the state, prompting a letter March 9 ordering the facility to cease operations immediately.

CCH officials said they sent the proper paperwork in a timely manner to the state, with the AHCA countering that they never received it.

CCH, which serves Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, pleaded its case with the state for permission to continue serving patients during the appeal process. However, the AHCA denied a hearing, which CCH attorneys say would have given them the chance to present compelling evidence the company submitted proper renewal paperwork.

This led to CCH seeking relief through legislation.

Set for a House floor hearing, the bill is one day earlier than a similar Senate version filed by Sebring Republican state Sen. Denise Grimsley. Both bills seek to revise information a home health agency is required to submit to the AHCA for license renewal.

According to the bill, “an applicant whose license expired between January 1, 2015, and the effective date of this act may apply for an exemption within 30 days of this act becoming law.”

A critical difference in HB 441 is in the effective date, a change allowing CCH to get back to work as soon as Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill.

Language of the Senate bill says the law could not take effect until July 1, too late for CCH to recover.

In a sign of goodwill, CCH – with branches across the country – has temporarily continued to pay its workers. The firm wrote payroll checks totaling $250,000 for 150 employees in the Central Florida region in March, paying staff while the company had no assurance of reimbursement, something that state law dictates for licensed hospice providers.

CCH representatives continue to hope the company can sustain employees until the state resolves the matter legislatively.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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