TALLAHASSEE — The Villages is a 95,000-person retirement mecca that caters to your every need. Restaurants when you get hungry, movie theaters when it's too hot out, golf courses for Sunday mornings, florists for anniversaries, even a funeral home for when you die.
Well, almost everything.
The community and its politically connected developer have turned to the Florida Legislature needing one last thing — a nursing home for when you get old.
The planned retirement community in Central Florida is asking legislators to bypass state rules and a moratorium on new nursing homes so it can construct one in the sprawling retirement community. HB 1159 would carve out an exception that would allow nursing homes to be built in communities with large elderly populations and relatively low numbers of nursing home beds. According to state analysts, that description fits only one place: the Villages.
The community says it needs nursing homes to start addressing the long-term care of its aging residents. Rep. Marlene O'Toole, whose district includes the Villages, sponsored HB 1159. Sen. Alan Hays, whose district also includes the Villages, sponsors the Senate version, SB 1482.
The town says it will need nearly 800 nursing home beds to ensure a 16-to-1 ratio for its current population, O'Toole said Tuesday. "We think the need is now," she said.
The request underscores the power and influence of Villages developer and mega-GOP donor Gary Morse. And it has Democrats and even some Republicans in the Legislature uneasy about playing favorites.
"We don't like doing one at a time," said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. "It's not the way to formulate policy. I think everyone would say that."
Corcoran is chairman of the House's Health and Human Services Committee, which could vote on the proposal next week. He wants it changed so that, even if the bill grants the Villages its nursing home beds, it also commissions a study on the overall process for approving new facilities.
The Legislature created a moratorium on nursing home facilities in 2001 as a way to control Medicaid costs. The moratorium has already twice been extended by lawmakers and is currently set to expire in 2016. Nursing home facilities also can apply to the state to bypass the moratorium.
The Villages, and Morse, aren't prepared to wait that long.
Morse and his family contributed nearly $2 million to Mitt Romney and groups aligned with the Republican presidential candidate. They've contributed to state candidates as well — $70,000 to Gov. Rick Scott's political committee and $2,000 to O'Toole's 2012 re-election.
Former House Speaker Dean Cannon is a registered lobbyist for the Villages.
Opponents argue that the Villages should follow the existing process to build a nursing facility, which requires receiving a "certificate of need."
That is how Steve Bogomilsky obtained permission to build the Villages Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, a nursing home just east of the development, which includes parts of Sumter, Marion and Lake counties.
Bogomilsky has just a few residents so far, he says, and told lawmakers last month that there is no pressing need to bend the rules for the Villages. Bogomilsky has been meeting with other nursing home advocates, the state and the Villages representatives to reach a compromise.
"There are plenty of beds that are currently serving the Villages," Bogomilsky said. "But in the long run there probably will be a need."