Elaine Bloom was the 16th woman inducted into the Florida Legislature — and five of them had been sworn in on that same day in 1974.
Ever since, Bloom has blazed a path forward for local women in politics and business.
She served in the state house for a total of 18 years, taking a break in between two stints representing districts in Northeast Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach and Miami to work as a radio host, lobbyist and consultant. She was elected as the House of Representative’s Speaker pro tempore for the 1992-1994 session. After stepping down as a state legislator in 2000, she ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Congress and for mayor of Miami Beach.
In July, she became president and CEO of Plaza Health Network, a nonprofit founded in 1954 that is the largest nursing home network in Miami-Dade County. Plaza recently paid a $17 million fine to settle a case with the U.S. Department of Justice over alleged kickbacks to doctors. It did not admit to wrongdoing.
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Bloom said she wanted to move on from the scandal, which erupted into public view before she was hired, and focus on what Plaza does best.
“I took this job to help take care of people,” she said. “That’s what we do.”
Bloom answered questions from the Miami Herald via email.
Q: As a business, healthcare in the U.S. is undergoing some of the biggest changes in its history with the passage of the Affordable Care Act and other measures. How is Plaza Health responding to these changes including managed care and the introduction of Medicare penalties for patients being readmitted to the hospital?
A: Doing more with less is a reality for all healthcare providers in the age of healthcare reform, as well as being more accountable for outcomes. We are actually embracing innovation in this area. For example, our chief clinical officer, Ann-Lynn Denker, who is past president of the Florida Nurses Association and past chair of the Florida Board of Nursing, is creating new roles for nurse practitioners at our centers to ensure optimal care and outcomes. We are working in new ways with insurance companies and creating innovative outcome-based partnerships where we are exceeding expectations while delivering strong clinical results. Our hospital partners appreciate these efforts because it helps them reduce re-admissions and penalties.
Q: Why did you join Plaza Health and what do you hope to accomplish?
A: Plaza Health Network is the largest not-for-profit nursing home network in Miami-Dade County, so I knew there was an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way in the area of care for the elderly. My mission when appointed president and CEO of Plaza Health Network was to revitalize the great programs Plaza Health Network already offers and improve our network capabilities. Part of that process was to revitalize the leadership team. We have a new chief clinical officer, a new chief compliance officer and a new chief financial officer. Our new chairman of the board, Ron Lowy, is devoted to building a stronger executive team. All are highly accomplished professionals with exceptional credentials. We’ve also reinvigorated the Plaza Health Network Foundation, under Executive Director Ilene Zweig’s leadership, and have seen new, substantial supporters come on board to help raise funds for our important enhancement projects.
Q: Is Florida’s healthcare system behind those of other big states?
A: Yes, Florida’s healthcare system is absolutely behind. As someone who has long been an advocate for patients, seniors and healthcare providers, I believe there is no question that Medicaid expansion in Florida is critical for our state. At least 13 million more Americans are now receiving health care insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act — but it’s not enough. Our legislature needs to come to grips with expanding Medicaid so more people can gain access to proper healthcare. There are so many Floridians who are stuck in the middle: They have too much income to qualify for Medicaid but make too little for “Obamacare.”
Today, South Florida has the highest rate of employed workers without health insurance in the entire country because about 600,000 working people in Florida can’t afford to purchase health insurance and don’t qualify for subsidies. Without sufficient healthcare coverage, the working poor are forced to access care through hospital emergency departments as opposed to primary care physicians, which costs Florida about $3 billion per year in unpaid healthcare costs.
In order to make up for these losses, insurers are charged more for the insured patients who access the healthcare system, raising the cost of healthcare coverage for businesses, families and individuals. With Medicaid expansion, these unpaid healthcare costs could be decreased. By allowing everyone access to primary care physicians, conditions can be treated proactively, avoiding higher costs later on. Continuity of care means healthier patients and lower costs in the long term.
Q: In June, Plaza Health agreed to a $17 million settlement with the Department of Justice over an alleged Medicare fraud scheme. A local union has also criticized the nonprofit for paying low wages. How do you respond to these criticisms?
A: The Department of Justice settlement marked the end of a brief, difficult period in a long history of great care and service to the community that spans more than half-a-century. The individuals associated with the business procedures in question are no longer affiliated with Plaza Health Network. It’s important to note that the high quality of care at our centers was never compromised. There was never any finding or admission of guilt, but we needed to put this behind us and stop the legal bills and the negative press. The experience and integrity of our management team is exceptional.
We strongly dispute the union allegations and attacks against us. We feel we have been unfairly targeted as part of a national campaign. Our pay and benefits are among the highest in the area, and that is part of the reason we have excellent employee retention rates. And the excellent quality of our care has been validated many times by third-party organizations. For example, we have repeatedly earned five-star or four-star ratings at many of our centers from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ in the Nursing Home Compare rating system, which studies and judges the quality of care given to our patients. We stand by our reputation for providing some of the best rehabilitation and skilled nursing care in South Florida.
Q: You first came to Miami-Dade in 1962. What brought you here? And do those same attractions still hold true? Or is Miami a different city now?
A: We had some wonderful friends who loved the way of life here in Miami. They convinced my husband and me to make the move. We were attracted to a better environment and to leaving the fast-paced New York life behind. Miami has gone through amazing changes, especially with the influx of the Cuban population over the past five decades. The growing Hispanic community has made Miami into a diverse business community and has made us attractive to South and Central American businesses.
Q: Do you think it’s easier now for women to succeed at work than it was when you were starting out? What more can be done to help women in the workplace?
A: Overall, I think we’ve come far but not far enough regarding women in the workplace. I think women need to be judged by the same standards as men in the workplace, including the ability to manage a family and position of importance or service.
Job: President and CEO of Plaza Health Network since July.
Experience: Bloom served twice in the Florida House of Representatives — between 1974-1978, and 1986-2000. Among her achievements: She helped create the Department of Elder Affairs and was the author of Florida’s Community Care for the Elderly Act to enable frail elderly to be in their own homes with periodic assistance. Bloom, a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2000.
Personal: Graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1953 and from Barnard College in 1957, where she majored in government. Married to former Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Philip Bloom; two children, four grandsons, one granddaughter. Lives in Miami Beach.
About Plaza Health Network: Began in 1954 as a 12-bed convalescent home for WWII veterans and elderly Jewish residents. With over 900 beds in seven centers, Plaza Health Network offers rehabilitation and skilled nursing services.