Category Archives: CON Law

AHCA Preliminary Decisions on Skilled Nursing Facilities

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AHCA has issued its State Agency Action Reports announcing the preliminary results on CON Applications submitted for Skilled Nursing Facilities. Below is a summary of the winners and losers listed by Sub-district. For a summary of the process for challenging AHCA’s preliminary decisions, please see our prior Newsletter Article attached.

Sub-district 1-1

Approved Application:

NF Bay, LLC/NF Bay, LLC Establish a new 90-bed community nursing home

Denied Application:

PruittHealth – Escambia County, LLC/PruittHealth – Escambia County, LLC Establish a new 90-bed community nursing home

Sub-district 3-1

Approved Application:

SF Brevard, LLC/SF Brevard, LLC Establish a new 113- bed community nursing home

Withdrawn Application:

Terrace Enterprises, LLC/Terrace Enterprises, LLC Establish a new community nursing home of up to 120 beds

Sub-district 3-2

Approved Applications:

Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, Inc./Oak Hammock at the University of Florida Add 17 community nursing home beds through the conversion of 17 sheltered nursing home beds
Palm Garden of Gainesville, LLC/Palm Garden of Gainesville, LLC Add 30 community nursing home beds

Withdrawn Application:

Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC/Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC Establish a new 47-bed community nursing home

Sub-district 3-3

Approved Application:

Crestwood Nursing Center, Inc./Crestwood Nursing Center Add 29 community nursing home beds

Sub-district 4-1

No Approved Applications

Denied Application:

Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC/Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC Establish a new 14-bed community nursing home

Sub-district 7-2

Approved Applications:

Presbyterian Retirement Communities, Inc./Westminster Towers Add 30 community nursing home beds through the conversion of 30 sheltered nursing home beds
Presbyterian Retirement Communities, Inc./Westminster Winter Park Add 17 community nursing home beds through the conversion of 17 sheltered nursing home beds

Denied Applications:

MF Orange, LLC/MF Orange, LLC Establish a new 90-bed community nursing home
Orange SNF, LLC/Orange SNF, LLC Establish a new 118-bed community nursing home

Sub-district 7-4

Approved Application:

Lifespace Communities, Inc./Village on the Green Add 30 community nursing home beds through the conversion of 30 sheltered nursing home beds

Withdrawn Application:

Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC/Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC Establish a new 33-bed community nursing home

Sub-district 8-2

Denied Application:

Pelican Bay Retirement Services/Premier Place at the Glenview Add 14 community nursing home beds through the conversion of 14 sheltered nursing home beds

Sub-district 9-1

Approved Application:

Palm Garden of Vero Beach, LLC/Palm Garden of Vero Beach, LLC Add nine community nursing home beds

Sub-district 11-1

Approved Application:

Florida Medical Systems, LLC/Florida Medical Systems, LLC Add 45 community nursing home beds

Denied Application:

Palm Garden of Aventura, LLC/Palm Garden of Aventura, LLC Add 45 community nursing home beds

Geoffrey D. Smith is a shareholder in the law firm of Smith & Associates, and has practiced in the area of health care law for over 20 years.

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Update on Return of Nursing Home CON in Florida

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The “post moratorium era” continues for the Nursing Home Certificate of Need (“CON”), with twenty-eight Letters of Intent filed in response to published Fixed Need Pools for an additional 493 nursing home beds statewide. Since the lifting of the moratorium on nursing home CON by the Legislature last year, the Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA “) has approved a total of 3,198 needed nursing home beds. Under the legislation, AHCA cannot approve any more CONs for nursing home beds equal to or greater than 3,750 (until June 30, 2017). Assuming AHCA awards all of the published need to these applicants, the total approvals by AHCA since the legislation was passed will be 3,691 beds. This would mean that there would only be 59 beds left before the 3,750 statutory cap is reached. Other deadlines are fast approaching, as well. Any provider that wishes to file a competing Grace Period Letter of Intent has until May 6, 2015 to file for a competing proposal.

The following tables show the Fixed Need Pool in each subdistrict where AHCA has received one or more letters of intent. The tables reflect the number of beds published in the Fixed Need Pool and a summary of the Letters of Intent received in each subdistrict to date. Additional notations are made as to any observations regarding the number of beds sought in relation to the fixed need pool.

Subdistrict 1-1
(Escambia and Santa Rosa)
Need: 61

Escambia FL HUD Pensacola/Specialty Health and Rehabilitation Center Add 30 community nursing home beds
Escambia NF Bay, LLC Establish a new 90-bed community nursing home
Escambia PruittHealth – Escambia County, LLC Establish a new community nursing home of up to 120 beds

*Note: Two applicants have filed for a number greater than published need; and one less.

Subdistrict 2-1
(Gadsden, Holmes, Jackson and Washington)
Need: 41
No LOIs received despite published need.


Subdistrict 3-1
(Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee)
Need: 113

Columbia MF Orange, LLC Establish a new 113-bed community nursing home
Columbia Palm Garden of Lake City, LLC Establish a new community nursing home of up to 113 beds
Columbia PruittHealth – Alachua County, LLC Establish a new community nursing home of up to 113 beds
Columbia Terrace Enterprises, LLC Establish a new community nursing home of up to 113 beds

Subdistrict 3-2
(Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafeyette, Union, and Levy)
Need: 47

Alachua Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC Establish a new 47-bed community nursing home
Alachua Oak Hammock at the University of Florida Add 17 community nursing home beds through the conversion of 17 sheltered nursing home beds
Alachua Palm Garden of Gainesville, LLC Add up to 47 community nursing home beds

Subdistrict 3-3
(Putnam)
Need: 34

Putnam Crestwood Nursing Center, Inc. Add up to 34 community nursing home beds
Putnam Lakewood Nursing Center, Inc. Add up to 34 community nursing home beds

Subdistrict 3-4
(Marion)
Need: 0

Marion Ocala SNF, LLC Establish a new community nursing home of up to 120 beds

*Note: No published need, but an LOI was received.

Subdistrict 3-5
(Citrus)
Need: 23
Need published but no LOIs filed.


Subdistrict 3-6
(Hernando)
Need: 5
Need published but no LOIs filed.


Subdistrict 4-1
(Nassau and North Duval)
Need: 14

Duval Edgewood Nursing Center, Inc. Add up to 14 community nursing home beds
Duval Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC Establish a new 14-bed community nursing home

Subdistrict 4-3
(St. Johns and Southeast Duval)
Need: 0

St. Johns Saint Johns SNF LLC Establish a new community nursing home of up to 120 beds

*Note: No published need, but an LOI was received.

Subdistrict 5-1
(Pasco)
Note: 44

Pasco Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC Establish a new 44-bed community nursing home
Pasco LP New Port Richey, LLC/Southern Pines Healthcare Center Add 44 community nursing home beds

Subdistrict 6-4
(Highlands)
Need: 11
Need published but no LOIs filed.



Subdistrict 7-2
(Orange)
Need: 0

Orange Orange SNF, LLC Establish a new community nursing home of up to 120 beds

*Note: No published need, but an LOI was received.

Subdistrict 7-4
(Seminole)
Need: 33

Seminole Innovative Medical Management Solutions, LLC Establish a new 33-bed community nursing home

Seminole Lifespace Communities, Inc./Village on the Green Add up to 33 community nursing home beds
Seminole Seminole SNF LLC Establish a new community nursing home of up to 120 beds

*One applicant exceeds published need.

Subdistrict 8-2
(Collier)
Need: 0

Collier Pelican Bay Retirement Services/Premier Place at the Glenview Add up to 14 community nursing home beds through the conversion of up to 14 sheltered beds

*Note: No published need, but an LOI was received.

Subdistrict 9-1
(Indian River)
Need: 9

Indian River Palm Garden of Vero Beach, LLC Add up to nine community nursing home beds

Subdistrict 9-2
(Martin)
Need: 9
Need published but no LOIs filed.


Subdistrict 9-3
(Okeechobee)
Need: 4
Need published but no LOIs filed.


Subdistrict 11-1
(Miami Dade)
45

Miami Dade CC-Aventura, Inc./VI at Aventura Add up to 40 community nursing home beds
Miami Dade Florida Medical Systems, LLC/Florida Medical Systems, LLC Add up to 45 community nursing home beds and a partial of 15 beds
Miami Dade Palm Garden of Aventura, LLC/Palm Garden of Aventura, LLC Add up to 45 community nursing home beds
Miami Dade Pediatric Specialty Care of Florida, LLC/Pediatric Specialty Care of Florida, LLC Establish a new community nusing home of up to 45 beds

Total Statewide: 493



Any provider that has been contemplating an opportunity to seek a CON for a new facility or additional beds at an existing facility should review the currently filed Letters of Intent carefully, and decide if now is the time to seek approval for a competing project. Existing providers should also carefully consider their options, and decide whether to oppose a project that may have a negative impact on existing operations. Please feel free to call me for any additional information.

Geoffrey D. Smith is a shareholder in the law firm of Smith & Associates, and has practiced in the area of health care law and CON regulation for over 20 years.

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Update on Return of Nursing Home CON in Florida

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The deadline is looming to challenge AHCA’s preliminary Decisions. March 16, 2015, is the final day for competing CON Applicants to file challenges to AHCA’s State Agency Action Reports (“SAAR”). Existing Providers wanting full party status to challenge preliminary decisions should also file challenges by March 16, 2015. AHCA’s preliminary decisions that are not challenged by March 16, 2015, will become final and the preliminary approved Applicants will be issued CONs.

If a challenge is filed by a substantially affected party demonstrating that there are material disputed issues of fact, the matter will be referred to the Division of Administrative Hearings (“DOAH”) and assigned to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) for a quasi-judicial proceeding (“Final Hearing”). At the Final Hearing, AHCA’s preliminary decision is not entitled to any deference. The Applicants have the burden of proving the information contained in their CON Applications, and the Florida Evidence Code is applicable, with limited exceptions such as a more lenient rule on admissibility of hearsay evidence. For more information on the DOAH Final Hearing process, see our newsletter published February 11, 2015, posted at: http://smithlawtlh.com/update-on-return-of-nursing-home-con-in-florida/.

DISTRICTS RIPE FOR CHALLENGES

At this point, any area where there is a pending CON approval is an opportunity for a legal challenge. Basis for challenges are unlimited and can include any combination of factors, such as a better fit for the market, technical flaws in a CON Application, under or over filling the gap in need demonstrated by the fixed need publication, etc.

The chart below indicates sub-districts where AHCA’s preliminary approvals were less than the published fixed need determinations, which is one basis to argue a different provider or combination of providers might be a better fit.

Sub-district Deficit/Surplus
1-1 40 Bed Surplus
3-2 60 Bed Surplus
4-4 47 Bed Surplus
5-2 56 Bed Surplus
7-4 78 Bed Surplus
8-5 40 Bed Surplus

WHO CAN CHALLENGE

Existing Providers in the same district or competing CON Applicants in the same sub-district can challenge the preliminary decisions. Once challenged, an approved CON Applicant should challenge the other CON Applicants in their sub-district within 10 days of the Notice of Litigation being filed in the Florida Administrative Register, or they could be left merely defending their approval without being able to raise flaws in competitors’ CON Applications.

UNCERTAIN APPLICANTS AND PROVIDERS SHOULD CHALLENGE

With March 16, 2015, rapidly approaching, many CON Applicants and Existing Providers may not have had the opportunity to fully comprehend the potential implications of AHCA’s preliminary decisions. If you are in this position, it is best to go ahead and file a challenge. A challenge can always be dismissed if you decide not to proceed, but if you miss the opportunity to challenge, you may have missed the only window of opportunity.

In some instances, denied CON Applicants have been able to reach settlements that resulted in their approval in addition to the approval of the preliminarily approved Applicant. In other instances, denied CON Applicants have been able to recoup some of their costs through settlements.

Existing Providers may have enhanced reasons to participate in challenges to avoid settlements that allow multiple approvals of preliminarily denied Applicants in addition to preliminarily approved Applicants. While this potential is always present in CON cases, it seems particularly likely in this batching cycle because there are so many potential sub-districts that may have litigation, several sub-districts have more fixed need for beds than have been preliminarily approved, and the Legislature has predetermined a limited window for the total number of beds that will be approved statewide before the moratorium is reactivated, and this number may be reached before need is triggered in the specific sub-district at issue in the future.

Further, a recent circuit court case provides additional reasons why Existing Providers should stay engaged in the process. In that case, a preliminarily denied CON Applicant challenged its denial. There was no competing CON Applicant. AHCA settled and approved the CON, including giving the CON Applicant several years beyond the time where the CON should have expired to begin construction. Several years later, when the project was about to commence construction, the Existing Provider tried to challenge the CON arguing it should have expired 18 months after it was issued, instead of several years after it was issued. The circuit court held the Existing Provider waived its rights to challenge by not filing a challenge within 21 days, even though the Existing Provider had no reason to assume AHCA would have extended the CON for several years beyond the statutory validity period. This case stands for the position that if an Existing Provider fails to challenge a CON, it could be strapped with far reaching consequences.

CONCLUSION

March 16, 2015, is an important deadline to file challenges to AHCA’s preliminary approvals. Failure to timely file a challenge could waive your rights to any future challenges, even if the litigation ultimately results in settlements that go beyond expectations.

Geoffrey D. Smith is a shareholder in the law firm of Smith & Associates, and has practiced in the area of health care law and CON regulation for over 20 years.

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Update on Return of Nursing Home CON in Florida

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AHCA announced the preliminary winners and losers in the first nursing home CON batching cycle since the Legislature lifted the moratorium in 2014. The State Agency Action Reports (“SAARs”) released on February 20 had a few surprises, but perhaps the biggest surprise is not contained within the decisions on the 102 completed CON Applications, but instead in the significant number of areas that are still left with unmet need.

While most of the talk surround nursing home CON Applications filed in this batching cycle has been about the large number of CON Applications filed, perhaps the more interesting story is that in 9 sub-districts, where there was a combined published fixed need of 365 beds, no one applied. In 13 other sub-districts, AHCA’s preliminary decisions awarded less beds than the fixed need determination calculated despite having CON Applications that would have met the need, for a combined deficit of 443 beds. For example, in Lee County, sub-district 8-5, there was fixed need for 40 beds, yet AHCA denied the only CON Application filed in that sub-district, leaving the 40 bed fixed need determination unmet.

This article focuses on the fixed need determinations by sub-district and the net surplus or deficit that would be created if AHCA’s preliminary determinations stand. Note, however, that AHCA’s preliminary determinations may be overturned by legal challenges filed before March 16, 2015, so these numbers are subject to and will almost definitely change significantly before all of the legal challenges are completed. For a more detailed discussion on the legal challenge process and timeline, see our newsletter dated February 11, 2015.

SUB-DISTRICTS WITH FIXED NEED WITHOUT A CON APPLICANT

No one applied for a nursing home CON in 9 sub-districts where there was published fixed need in the Second Batching Cycle for Other Beds and Programs 2014. The chart below shows the sub-district, counties, and fixed need that was not applied for by any nursing home provider.

Sub-district Counties Unmet Need
2-1 Gadsden, Holmes, Jackson, and Washington 56
2-3 Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty, and Wakulla 14
3-1 Columbia, Hamilton, and Suwannee 99
3-3 Putnam 43
5-1 Pasco 67
6-4 Highlands 25
9-1 Indian River 18
9-2 Martin 37
9-3 Okeechobee 6

While it is too late for anyone to apply for a CON in these sub-districts in this batching cycle, it is extremely likely that similar fixed need will be published for these sub-districts in the next batching cycle on April 3, 2015.

SUB-DISTRICTS WHERE NEED IS GREATER THAN AHCA AWARDS

In 13 sub-districts, AHCA preliminarily awarded CONs for less beds than the current projected need. The chart below provides the sub-district, counties, and deficit between the fixed need calculations and preliminary awards.

Sub-district Counties Unmet Need
1-1 Escambia and Santa Rosa 40
3-2 Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy and Union 60
3-5 Citrus 43
3-6 Hernando 16
3-7 Lake and Sumter 25
4-3 St. Johns and south-eastern Duval 47
5-2 Pinellas 56
7-2 Orange 18
7-3 Osceola 10
7-4 Seminole 78
8-1 Charlotte 3
8-2 Collier 7
8-5 Lee 40

Any Applicant that filed a CON in the current batching cycle has the right to challenge their denial or the approval of another CON in the same sub-district prior to March 16, 2015.

SUB-DISTRICTS WHERE AHCA AWARDS EXCEEDED FIXED NEED

There were 4 sub-districts where AHCA awarded more beds than the fixed need publications showed were needed. The chart below shows the sub-district, counties, and surplus of beds over the published fixed need.

Sub-district Counties Surplus Beds
2-2 Bay 14
3-4 Marion 12
4-2 Baker, Clay, and southwestern Duval 47
6-5 Polk 51

Any Applicant that filed a CON in the current batching cycle has the right to challenge their denial or the approval of another CON Application filed in the same sub-district prior to March 16, 2015.

RIGHTS OF EXISTING PROVIDERS

Existing providers in the same district that will be substantially affected by the approval of a competing proposed facility or program can initiate or intervene in a challenge pursuant to Fla. Stat. §408.039(5)(c) (2014). Thus, by way of example, an existing provider in sub-district 6-3 can challenge a preliminary approval of a proposed provider in sub-district 6-5 because they are both in district 6. This is different from competing Applicants that must be filing in the same sub-district to prove standing. Existing providers may also intervene in legal proceedings challenging preliminary approvals after March 16, 2015, however, they do so subject to the standing of the other parties to the proceeding, as discussed in our prior newsletter on February 11, 2015. Thus, existing providers that wait until after March 16, 2015, do so at the risk that no one else challenges the preliminary approval.

AREAS RIPE FOR CHALLENGES

At this point, any area where there is a pending CON approval is an opportunity for a legal challenge. Basis for challenges are unlimited and can include any combination of factors, such as a better fit for the market, technical flaws in an application, under or over filling the gap in need demonstrated by the fixed need publication, etc. There are literally countless basis for challenging a preliminary CON approval. Notably, final hearings are de novo proceedings, meaning AHCA’s preliminary decision is not given any weight or presumption of correctness.

Without a full detailed review of all of the competing Applications within a sub-district, it’s difficult to make any specific conclusions about where successful opportunities for challenges could be found. That said, there are some sub-districts that seem to stand out in a macro-analysis shown in the chart below.

Sub-district Deficit/Surplus Reason
1-1 40 Bed Surplus Other Applicant met the published need
3-2 60 Bed Surplus Other Applicants met the published need
4-4 47 Bed Surplus Other Applicants met the published need
5-2 56 Bed Surplus Denied 56 bed Applicant
7-4 78 Bed Surplus Other Applicants met the published need
8-5 40 Bed Surplus Denied 31 bed Applicant

If these preliminary approvals are not challenged, they become final approvals and CONs will be awarded in these sub-districts.

Thus, if you are uncertain about whether you want to challenge a denial or someone else’s approval, it’s best to go ahead and file a challenge. A challenge can always be dismissed if you decide not to proceed, but if you miss the opportunity to challenge, then you may have missed the window of opportunity. That said, we have conservatively used March 16, 2015, as the deadline to file challenges throughout this article. However, there are certain facts and subsequent notice that have occurred in this batching cycle that might extend the period of time to file such challenges. Thus, if you have not decided to file a challenge until after March 16, 2015, and are just now reading this article and thinking you are too late, please contact us to discuss whether there may be additional ways to challenge a preliminary denial or approval.

CONCLUSION

February 20, 2015, held a few surprises for the bountiful field of CON Applicants, particularly that there is still a significant amount of unmet need where either no one applied for a CON or where AHCA did not award the beds to the full amount projected by the need formula. It will be interesting to see on April 3, 2015, whether AHCA again publishes similar need for these unclaimed areas, and if so, whether any CON Applicants will jump into the arena to compete for these unclaimed areas. There are also many areas of the State that are potentially subject to legal challenges to AHCA’s preliminary approvals. It will be interesting to see how many of AHCA’s preliminary decisions ultimately remain after these legal challenges are completed.

Geoffrey D. Smith is a shareholder in the law firm of Smith & Associates, and has practiced in the area of health care law and CON regulation for over 20 years.

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Smith & Associates Lobby for ALF Changes

Watch Smith & Associates’ attorneys Geoff Smith and Susan Smith lobby the Florida Legislature for changes in the Nursing Home CON laws here. (Smith & Associates start at the 1:39 mark).

Currently, the CON rules, as they are applied to Nursing Homes, allow for one nursing home to obtain and hold a monopoly in a district. This leads to fewer options for nursing home patients. Smith & Associates is lobbying the Florida Legislature to change this law to protect nursing home patients.

Update on Return of Nursing Home CON in Florida

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AHCA will be releasing its State Agency Action Reports (“SAARs”) on February 20, 2015, announcing the preliminary decisions for approvals and denials of the 104 CON Applications filed in the first batching cycle since the Legislature lifted the moratorium on new nursing homes in Florida. But what happens next? What do you do if you don’t agree with AHCA’s preliminary decisions? Who has standing to challenge the decision if your CON has been preliminarily approved? This article will provide a basic overview of Fla. Stat. §120.569 and §120.57 (2014), including the timing of challenges, the basic laws regarding standing to bring a challenge, and an overview of the administrative process should you wish to file a challenge or find yourself defending against a challenge.

NOTIFICATION OF DECISIONS

AHCA notifies CON Applicants of its preliminary decisions by releasing SAARs for each subdistrict where there was one or more CON Applications filed. The SAARs contain an assessment of each Applicant’s proposal, and a determination ultimately of which applicant or applicants best meets the statutory and rule review criteria. There is no fixed weight applied to any criteria, and the analysis by AHCA involves a weighing and balancing of all the review criteria.

There are four ways to access SAARs. First, there is a link from AHCA’s home page where all of the SAARs will be posted on February 20, 2015: http://www.fdhc.state.fl.us/MCHQ/CON_FA/Batching/applications.shtml. Sometimes, it can be later in the afternoon before the SAARs are actually posted. Second, any person or company can sign up to be added to AHCA’s email notification list for all CON batching cycle public notices, which includes the notification of the preliminary decisions on CON Applications. Third, AHCA directly contacts CON Applicants via the information provided in the initial CON Applications. Finally, within a few days of the decisions being announced, AHCA will publish formal Notices of Decisions in the Florida Administrative Register (“FAR”).

DECISIONS AFFECTING SUBSTANTIAL INTERESTS

Anytime AHCA makes a decision affecting substantial interests, AHCA must provide a “point of entry” for challenging the decision in an administrative trial. The “point of entry” explains when, where, and how the affected person or entity can challenge AHCA’s preliminary decision. Pursuant to Rule 59C-1.012 within 21 days after publication of the Notice of Intent in the FAR, a CON Applicant can request an administrative hearing to challenge the decision. The failure to timely file a proper request for administrative hearing challenging the denial of a CON Application shall result in the denial becoming final.

If a valid request for an administrative hearing is timely filed by a denied competing CON Applicant, a granted CON Applicant in the same sub-district shall have 10 days from the Notice of Litigation being published in the FAR to file a Petition challenging any or all other co-batched CON Applications.

Nursing home CON Applicants can only challenge other Applications that were comparatively reviewed for the same services in the same sub-district. Existing providers in the same district that will be substantially affected by the approval of a competing proposed facility or program can initiate or intervene in a challenge pursuant to Fla. Stat. §408.039(5)(c) (2014). Thus, existing providers are given a wider geographic area to be allowed to challenge a CON than competing CON Applicants.

An existing provider that intervenes within 21 days of the publication of the Notice of Decisions has full party status; however, an intervenor that does not intervene within 21 days is only granted status that is contingent upon the standing of the other parties to the litigation. This comes into play where there is a problem with the original parties’ standing, where the original parties decide to dismiss their challenge, or where the original parties resolved certain substantive issues in the case, through stipulations or otherwise, before the intervenor came into the case. It is often said that unless an existing provider files a Petition with 21 days of the FAR Notice of Decisions, the intervenor takes the case as they find it and is at the mercy of the original parties when it comes to maintaining standing.

FILING A PETITION

Petitions are filed at AHCA. Sometimes, inexperienced attorneys inadvertently file at the Division of Administrative Hearings (“DOAH”), which could raise jurisdictional issues if there is inadequate time to correct the error prior to the 21 day deadline.

Petitions must comply with the uniform rules of procedure under §120.54 (5)(b), including at least the following:

  1. Identify the Petitioner;
  2. State when and how the Petitioner learned of the decision;
  3. Explain how the Petitioner’s substantial Interest are affected by the proposed action;
  4. A statement of all material disputed facts;
  5. A statement of the ultimate facts that warrant the reversal of the decision;
  6. A statement of the rules or statutes that require a reversal or modification of the decision; and
  7. A statement of the relief sought.

FORMAL ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS

If timely Petitions are filed meeting all of the required substantive criteria, AHCA refers the cases to DOAH for assignment of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to review the decisions being challenged. This hearing is considered a “de novo” proceeding, which means that the ALJ should not be influenced by AHCA’s preliminary decision set forth in the SAAR—and the SAAR is “not clothed with a presumption of correctness.” That said, statistically, AHCA preliminary decisions are more frequently upheld than overturned by the ALJs. Perhaps that is because AHCA becomes a party in the proceeding and typically presents expert witnesses to support its rationale for why it’s preliminary determination was correct. That said, there are a significant number of cases where AHCA’s preliminary decision to approve or deny a CON has been decided differently by the ALJ and AHCA has issued a Final Order upholding the ALJ’s determination.

An administrative hearing is similar to a civil court trial, with slightly relaxed rules of evidence. Parties conduct written discovery, and pre-trial depositions of witnesses. The parties then present their case through expert testimony, lay witness testimony, and submission of documentary evidence. There is an opening statement, direct examination and cross-examination of witnesses by attorneys, and legal arguments over admissibility of evidence.

One of the most common arguments in CON cases concerns whether the evidence being presented amounts to an “impermissible amendment” of a CON Application. By Rule and established case law, a CON Applicant cannot amend its Application to include new concepts or theories for approval that were not set forth in the CON Application. However, an Applicant may introduce new evidence, new or updated data, and testimony that elaborates and explains concepts or theories that were included in the CON Application.

By statute, a party requesting a hearing has a right to demand that the hearing be commenced within 60 days of assignment to an ALJ. As a practical matter, most hearings are not done on this expedited schedule. It is not unusual for the hearing process to take 4-6 months or longer. Hearings typically last about 2-3 days for each party involved. In multi-party proceedings a final hearing may last 3-4 weeks. Virtually all CON final hearings are held in Tallahassee.

Upon conclusion of a formal hearing, the parties are required to submit a Proposed Recommended Order (“PRO”) for the ALJ’s review and consideration. This is typically filed 30 days or so after the final hearing. The PRO includes proposed Findings of Fact as well as proposed Conclusions of Law. By Rule a PRO is supposed to be no longer than 40 pages, but is not unusual for an ALJ to expand the number of pages to 60 or 80 pages depending on the number of parties involved. The ALJ reviews all PROs submitted by the parties and then issues a decision in a Recommended Order.

EXCEPTIONS AND THE FINAL ORDER

Once the ALJ issues a Recommended Order, the case is remanded back to AHCA for issuance of a Final Order. Parties may file exceptions to the Recommended Order to explain why the ALJ’s decision is in error. In issuing a Final Order, AHCA may not reject an ALJ’s findings of fact, unless the Agency reviews the entire record, and finds that there is no “competent, substantial evidence” to support a specific finding. It is not the role of AHCA to reweigh the evidence, or judge the credibility of witnesses, or to substitute its balancing of the evidence for that of the ALJ. As to Conclusions of Law, AHCA cannot disturb a conclusion unless it is on a legal matter that is within AHCA’s expertise and jurisdiction (e.g., its governing statute and rules) and AHCA must state with particularity its reasons for rejecting or modifying the conclusion of the ALJ, and must make a finding that its substituted or modified conclusion of law is as or more reasonable than the ALJ’s conclusion.

The issuance of a Final Order by AHCA is the end of the formal hearing process, and unless a judicial appeal is taken, the CONs will be issued or denied as set forth in the Final Order.

FURTHER APPEALS

A party may appeal the Final Order to a District Court of Appeal. This appeal is limited only to a review of the record by a three judge panel based upon legal arguments submitted by the parties’ attorneys in legal briefs.

CONCLUSION

February 20, 2015, will be a historic date for nursing homes in Florida. No doubt there will be numerous preliminary approvals and numerous disappointed CON Applicants. The CON process also includes protections for those with existing operations that could be adversely impacted by a CON being issued to another facility. Thus, whether you are seeking approval for new a nursing home or are simply seeking to protect your existing operation, it’s important to stay engaged in the process and know your rights.

A nursing home wishing to compete in this batching cycle needs to begin preparing now. If you need help competing in this upcoming batching cycle, contact the experienced counsel at Smith & Associates.

Geoffrey D. Smith is a shareholder in the law firm of Smith & Associates, and has practiced in the area of health care law and CON regulation for over 20 years.

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Nursing Home CON Update

The State Agency Action Reports (SAARs) for the latest CON batching cycle are scheduled to be released on 2/20/15. After that date, applicants that wish to challenge the Agency’s findings have only 21 days to file a Petition for Formal Administrative Hearing. These dates are very important and failure to meet the deadlines may forfeit your rights. To see a full explanation of the CON Batching Cycle, read “Nursing Home CON Batching Cycle Rapidly Approaching”. If you need help or have questions about the upcoming deadlines, please contact us here at Smith & Associates. Our attorneys are dedicated professionals with decades of experience in health care and CON law.

The Waiting is Over – Nursing Home Need Projections Show Need in 31 Subdistricts

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The waiting is over. The official AHCA Fixed Need Pool projections have been released. Positive bed need is shown in 31 nursing home subdistricts. This includes the following subdistricts with a projected Need in excess of 200 beds: Subdistrict 3-2 (Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafeyette, Levy and Union counties); Subdistrict 3-7 (Lake and Sumter counties); Subdistrict 6-5 (Polk County); Subdistrict 7-2 (Orange County). There are an additional 10 subdistricts with projected Need in excess of 100 beds. Below is a complete listing of all subdistricts with the projected Need:

Community Nursing Home Bed Need

District 1
Subdistrict 1 160
Subdistrict 2 0
Subdistrict 3 0
District 2
Subdistrict 1 56
Subdistrict 2 63
Subdistrict 3 14
Subdistrict 4 86
Subdistrict 5 19
District 3
Subdistrict 1 99
Subdistrict 2 227
Subdistrict 3 43
Subdistrict 4 140
Subdistrict 5 65
Subdistrict 6 66
Subdistrict 7 205
District 4
Subdistrict 1 111
Subdistrict 2 170
Subdistrict 3 167
Subdistrict 4 0
District 5
Subdistrict 1 67
Subdistrict 2 89
District 6
Subdistrict 1 110
Subdistrict 2 0
Subdistrict 3 0
Subdistrict 4 25
Subdistrict 5 203
District 7
Subdistrict 1 131
Subdistrict 2 218
Subdistrict 3 130
Subdistrict 4 122
District 8
Subdistrict 1 23
Subdistrict 2 37
Subdistrict 3 0
Subdistrict 4 0
Subdistrict 5 40
Subdistrict 6 0
District 9
Subdistrict 1 18
Subdistrict 2 37
Subdistrict 3 6
Subdistrict 4 0
Subdistrict 5 0
District 11
Subdistrict 1 168
Subdistrict 2 0

Geoffrey D. Smith is a shareholder in the law firm of Smith & Associates, and has practiced in the area of health care law and CON regulation for over 20 years.

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CON for SNF Beds: New Opportunities for ALF Operators

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After a 13 year moratorium on issuing Certificates of Need for new Skilled Nursing Facility beds, Florida is poised for the return of nursing home CON beginning in October. This will present new opportunities for owners and operators of Assisted Living Facilities. Those existing ALFs that would like to obtain approval to offer Skilled Nursing Facility services should be making plans now. It is expected that the competition for approval of new SNF beds will be substantial. But for those who plan ahead and develop a strong argument for need to offer SNF services as part of an overall continuum of care, the rewards can be well worth the effort.

Nursing Home CON Return

Under 2014-174, Laws of Florida, the Legislature has lifted the 13 year ban on CON for skilled nursing facility beds. The imposition of the moratorium was first put in place in 2001 as a Medicaid cost saving measure. The moratorium was originally intended to last 5 years but was extended in 2006 and again in 2011. In recent years, there has been growing pressure to lift the moratorium and to begin preparing for the aging of the baby boomers. Responding to calls to allow for new development of Skilled Nursing Facilities and beds, the legislature authorized the return of CON.

The legislation lifting the moratorium includes new exemptions and expedited reviews for current owners and operators of SNF facilities. For a full summary of the provisions in the bill, please see: www.smithlawtlh.com, and click on Articles.

Opportunities for ALF Operators

It’s certainly no secret that many ALF operators are seeing increasing acuity among their resident populations. This is especially true for those ALF providers with Limited Nursing Services and Extended Congregate Care licenses. Indeed, many ALF operators have complained that the moratorium on SNF beds has resulted in increased pressure to care for higher acuity residents who, in many instances, might be better served in a SNF setting if beds were available.

The lifting of the moratorium will allow some ALF operators to expand the scope of services they offer to include a broader continuum of care. For some, this may be the addition of a SNF unit to their existing ALF facility; for others, it may mean the conversion of an existing ALF to SNF. Ultimately, some providers may seek to offer a full continuum of independent living, Assisted Living, and SNF on one single campus.

Different Architectural and License Requirements

Those interested in seeking SNF beds should thoroughly investigate the differences between SNF and ALF services in terms of the architectural and physical plant requirements as well as the operational and licensure requirements. A full discussion is beyond the scope of this Article, but generally SNF facilities will be evaluated under Florida Building Code requirements for institutional construction and, of course, will be subject to the provisions of Chapter 400, Florida Statutes and Chapter 59A-4, Florida Administrative Code. A CON Application must document the applicant’s ability to meet these standards.

The Upcoming Time Line to Seek SNF Approvals Launches in October

Under existing Rules, AHCA has a schedule that governs the procedures and a detailed time-line for applying for a Certificate of Need. Applications for new skilled nursing facilities and bed additions may be submitted two times per year in the “batching cycle” for “other beds and programs.” A “batching cycle” review is required for any party that wishes to obtain a CON for a new facility or bed addition that is not authorized under an exemption or expedited review. The key dates for the next available batching cycle are as follows:

Event Deadline
Fixed Need Pool Projections 10/03/14
10 days to File Notice of Errors in a Fixed Need Pool 10/13/14
21 Days to File Formal Challenge to Fixed Need Pool 10/24/14
Letter of Intent Filing Deadline 10/20/14
16-day Grace Period Letter of Intent Filing Deadline 11/05/14
CON Initial Application Filing Deadline 11/19/14
Request Public Hearing 14 Days After Publication Of Application Filing in Florida Administrative Register
CON Application Omissions Response Deadline 12/24/14
State Agency Action Reports (SAARs) Issued 2/20/15
Deadline to File Petition for Formal Administrative Hearing to Challenge a SAAR 21 Days After Publication of the SAAR Results in the Florida Administrative Register

Based on the schedule for the next batching cycle, any party wishing to submit a CON Application should immediately begin the process of putting together a “CON Application Team” consisting of at least the following members:

  • Key management for owner/operators;
  • Experienced CON counsel;
  • Experienced health planner;
  • Experienced financial planner; and
  • A health care architect.

Conclusion

Those interested in expanding their scope of services to include SNF beds should pay careful attention to the CON process that will begin in the next several weeks. Letters of Intent must be filed by October 20th for an applicant to be considered in the upcoming batching cycle.

Geoffrey D. Smith is a shareholder in the law firm of Smith & Associates, and has practiced in the area of health care law and CON regulation for over 20 years.

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Nursing Home CON Batching Cycle Rapidly Approaching

Now that the moratorium on Certificates of Need for Nursing Homes has been lifted, nursing homes seeking to add beds must participate in AHCA’s CON batching cycles. The first of these batching cycles since the lifting of the moratorium is rapidly approaching. On October 3, 2014, less than a month from now, AHCA will publish its Summary Need Projections in the F.A.W. Once this is published, nursing homes seeking to add beds to their facilities need to comply with a series of rules and deadlines in order to compete for the fixed number of beds available in their district. To learn more about the rules and deadlines read our article here.

A nursing home wishing to compete in this batching cycle needs to begin preparing now. If you need help competing in this upcoming batching cycle, contact the experienced counsel at Smith & Associates.