Texas state Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) is the Texas Health Care Association’s Legislator of the Year, thanks to his valiant efforts to pass legislation he authored during the 85th regular session of the Texas Legislature that would have improved the quality of care in nursing homes across the state.

Sheffield, a rural physician, received the award Thursday night at an event in his honor at the Ranchers Steakhouse in Gatesville.

“Rep. Sheffield has the bedside manner of a country doctor, but there is no more ferocious advocate for vulnerable Texas seniors in Austin,” said Kevin Warren, president and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association. “Rep. Sheffield cares about the quality of long term care in Texas because he understands how important long term care is to so many Texans. We are honored to have his support.”

Texas nursing homes have one of the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates in the nation, one that doesn’t even cover the cost of care according to the state’s own numbers. This low rate keeps wages low and staff turnover high — more than 90 percent. That hurts the quality of care that’s delivered in long term care facilities across the state every day.

Sheffield authored HB 2766 during this year’s regular legislative session, which would have returned hundreds of millions in federal dollars back to Texas to improve the state’s struggling nursing homes without adding to the state budget. This new money would have enabled nursing home owners across the state to raise wages, enhance training, and improve their facilities and the care they provide.

“Rep. Sheffield listened to his rural constituents and crafted a conservative bill that would have fixed the biggest problem Texas nursing homes have — inadequate funding — without increasing costs to the state,” Warren said. “Rep. Sheffield’s support reassured his conservative colleagues in the House that this plan was a good one.”

HB 2766 easily passed the House with bipartisan support. But the effort to improve Texas nursing homes died in the Senate as the clock ran out on the session.

“There is no higher calling than to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. As a family physician, I feel a personal responsibility to defend the life and dignity of every Texan, from the unborn baby to the senior citizen,” said Sheffield. “I will continue to fight with you for legislation to improve Texas nursing homes and medical care to our seniors in a responsible way that doesn’t increase costs to the taxpayer or the state, and we will win this fight.”

Sheffield was first elected in 2012 after challenging and beating a powerful incumbent. He has since earned a reputation as a rural conservative who puts the families of his district first. As a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, he helped to write some of the most conservative state budgets in history, holds state spending below the rate of population growth and inflation, and provided more than $5 billion in tax relief to Texas families and small businesses.