By Christine Sexton, The News Service of Florida
Long-term care providers confronted by a sizable number of deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic are more wary than others about reopening Florida’s health care market.
“Assisted living and nursing homes have not closed. Their operations have been affected, but they have not closed and they continue to serve those seniors well over the last several weeks,” LeadingAge Florida President and CEO Steve Bahmer said during a Re-Open Florida Task Force meeting Friday. “I think it will surprise no one that long-term care providers are going to be naturally, and I think rightly, cautious about adjusting these protocols, the protocols they have been putting in place the last several weeks specifically because of the vulnerability of the residents that they serve.”
Bahmer said the state’s nursing homes and assisted-living facilities continue to struggle with adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns and gloves. The Division of Emergency Management has made a concerted effort to provide the facilities with additional gear.
“But the reality is that more is needed and more will continue to be needed, especially as burn rates increase,” he said, noting that the “burn rate” accelerates as the number of COVID-19 cases increases.
Moreover, he said staff and residents at all long-term care facilities must be tested for COVID-19 and that testing needs to be done frequently. “That will need to be a priority,” Bahmer said.
As of Friday, Florida had 2,576 COVID-19 cases involving residents or staff members at 335 long-term care facilities. Of the 1,012 COVID-19 deaths in Florida reported Friday, more than 27 percent, or 281, are tied to infections at long-term care facilities.
Gov. Ron DeSantis created the task force to come up with recommendations to re-open the state, after the novel coronavirus caused widespread shutdowns. The governor is contemplating re-opening Florida’s economy, despite warnings from public health officials that it could be premature.
The task force’s Industry Working Group on Agriculture, Finance, Government, Healthcare, Management and Professional Services is one of three groups appointed by DeSantis. The groups will make recommendations to the task force executive committee, which will hen make recommendations to DeSantis. The governor is expected to release his plan next week.
DeSantis has issued — or ordered his agency heads to issue — a number of executive orders in response to the pandemic, including an March 9 executive order declaring COVID-19 a public health emergency.
On March 20, DeSantis issued an executive order cancelling all non-essential elective medical procedures as a way to conserve personal protective equipment and ensure capacity in the state’s health-care delivery system. The March 20 order, which doesn’t have an expiration date, is in effect until the underlying March 9 public health emergency order is lifted. That order only lasts 60 days, or until May 8, unless it is extended by the governor.
Bahmer also touched on the need for liability protections and increased payments to providers, which will be issues that transcend the scope of DeSantis’s task force.
One recommendation Bahmer made may be within the committee’s purview, however. He asked that there be an “expression of support” for the long-term cafe profession.
“Nursing homes are not a lifestyle choice,” Brahmer said. “They are a necessary health-care decision for seniors, in many cases, who need a particular level of care,” he said.