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Alzheimer's care should be top issue

By JOE HENDERSON, The Tampa Tribune, January 19, 2012

Tucked alongside the weighty issues facing the Legislature this session is a bill in the state Senate to set standards for adult day care centers that claim to specialize in Alzheimer's care. SB 694 hasn't garnered a lot of publicity, but it should.

The bill, sponsored by New Port Richey Republican Mike Fasano, essentially requires truth in advertising for the state's 202 such facilities. It focuses on staffing levels and training, patient supervision, and other issues that matter to families caring for Alzheimer's patients.

Think of it as a seal of approval by the state, certifying that a facility is what it claims to be.

Fasano said it will be the first such piece of legislation in the country.

A companion bill is working its way through the Florida House of Representatives and the issue appears to have a lot of support. There is a good chance this standard could become law soon.

Day care centers are critical for families that want to keep a loved one at home as long as possible. They won't be forced to remove a family member from a facility that isn't licensed, but it will put a spotlight on centers that promise a high level of care but don't deliver.

State regulators could come down hard in those cases, potentially even stripping a facility's license.

"If you're going to advertise you're an Alzheimer's facility, we want to make certain people who use those day care centers feel comfortable and safe in having their loved ones stay there," Fasano said.

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This disease is getting a lot of attention lately, but it needs more. President Obama recently signed the National Alzheimer's Project Act into law, an acknowledgement that the nation needs a national strategy against this monster.

An estimated 5.4 million people now live with Alzheimer's, but by 2050 it could be more than 16 million. In Florida, officials say there are 523,000 Alzheimer's patients. That number could increase by 64 percent during the next 13 years.

Republican presidential candidates have been too concerned with family values debates and slinging ethical mud to address this so far, but that could soon change. I'd imagine it will be an issue Monday during the debate at the University of South Florida.

"It's disappointing, regardless of Republican or Democrat, that you hear few questions asked or comments given by the candidates on these extremely important issues," Fasano said. "It doesn't affect just senior citizens, but their families trying to care for them too."

The state's Agency for Health Care Administration, which would oversee the licensing, said the new standards won't cost the state any money. That's always helpful in trying to get any new regulation passed, but it still would be worthy even if it dented the budget a little.

This is not the sexiest piece of legislation lawmakers will face this session, but anything that helps families in their fight against this disease is a good thing. Alzheimer's isn't backing down.