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Medical students to get training in home care

Medical and nursing students will be able to get credit for home-care training for the chronically ill under a law that will take effect on Friday.

To become training sites for colleges and universities, home-care agencies must be not-for-profit, at least 20 years old, and certified by Medicare and Medicaid.

They also must be at least a five-year member of the Nursing Home Diversion Program, designed to delay entry into nursing homes for frail elders.

“We are looking to start relationships with all different academic centers,” said Jose Fox, CEO of Miami-Dade non-profit United Homecare, one of the bill's authors.

Sen. Rene Garcia and Rep. Jose Diaz helped push through the bill, which passed unanimously in the House and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott on June 17.

The Department of Elder Affairs will determine whether home-care agencies that want to partner with academic institutions meet the law's requirements.

The law is likely to apply to only a few Florida agencies, said Larry Polivka, a scholar at the Claude Pepper Foundation who looks at long-term care issues.

“It's pretty obvious this bill was written with Jose (Fox) in mind, but I don't think that's a bad thing,” Polivka said.

Fox has donated to various Republican politicians and committees, including $200 for Sen. Garcia and $200 for Rep. Jose Diaz, campaign contribution records show.

He said the requirements will help prevent “fly-by-night” agencies from training students. Medicare fraud investigators have found billings for home care in South Florida run many times greater than for the nation as a whole.

Agencies that are granted permission to start academic partnerships will not receive any additional money from the state, said Ashley Marshall, communications director at the Department of Elder Affairs.

Sherry Pontious, dean of Florida International University's College of Nursing and Health Sciences, hopes to set her students up with at-home rotations by August. FIU was also behind the passage of the bill, she said.

The university is developing a curriculum for students that will provide faculty trainers and incorporate at-home care. The bill also opens the door for academic research in a home-based setting, she said.

Academic centers will probably vie to become partners with participating home-care agencies, said Robert Schwartz, professor and chair of the University of Miami's Department of Family Medicine & Community Health.

Typically students learn in hospitals, where they treat only acute problems. Learning to treat patients in their homes will allow students to try a more holistic approach, he said.

“It teaches you to look at what is in the refrigerator and what is in the medicine cabinet, and it helps you watch out for things that can be prevented—a rug that could cause a fall, for example,” he said.

Sen. Garcia, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said the law will put the state in a better position to provide care for aging boomers at a time of fiscal crisis.

“The reality is that we have an aging population, and at the end of the day the state is moving more and more community-based care,” he said.

--Reporter Brittany Davis can be reached at 954-239-8968 or

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.