Florida Nursing Homes Ramp Up Coronavirus Precautions

Orlando Sentinel

by Naseem Miller and Kate Santich

Mar 2, 2020

The outbreak of coronavirus infection and at least four deaths in a nursing home near Seattle have put long-term facilities in Florida on high alert, as they care for one of the most vulnerable populations.

"Nursing homes and senior care homes in general are just rife for this type of an outbreak." -- Brian Lee, FFBC Executive Director

“Nursing homes and senior care homes in general are just rife for this type of an outbreak,” said Brian Lee, the executive director for the nonprofit Families for Better Care, a citizen advocacy group for long-term care facilities. “Nursing homes are not hospitals. They don’t have patients. They have people who live there. That’s their home.”

On Monday, hours after Florida officials confirmed the first two cases of COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the state Surgeon General “to ensure that our assisted living facilities and nursing homes are taking adequate precautions,” he said in a press briefing.

Meanwhile, AARP Florida called on the state to ramp up oversight of elder-care facilities in the wake of the new developments, including a just-issued report suggesting that the fatality rate for the virus could be as much as 10 times higher for people over age 80 as it is for the population in general.

“News of coronavirus infections in a West Coast nursing home and a concerning new World Health Organization analysis of elder risk from the virus are highlighting the need today for Florida elected officials and state agencies to ensure that America’s grayest state is prepared to protect vulnerable elder populations — and the dedicated professional and family caregivers who care for them,” said AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson.

Some 160,000 Floridians live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, he noted.

"Florida should lead the way in preparing for the spread of this disease,” Johnson said.

He also urged the state to expedite testing kits allowing for rapid determination of coronavirus infections, which he called a “key step” in containing a possible outbreak.

The Florida Health Care Association, a trade group that represents Florida’s long-term care facilities, has set up a website dedicated to coronavirus guidelines and information. It is holding a conference call on Tuesday to review in detail industry protocols and guidelines and answer questions from its members.

The association has encouraged facilities to follow infection control guidelines and recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’ve encouraged that if visitors are sick don’t allow them to their facilities and look at alternative ways ... maybe through Skype or phone calls or emails," said Kristen Knapp, director of communications at Florida Health Care Association.

Sick employees are also encouraged to stay home.

Some Central Florida homeless shelters — notably filled with people who have compromised immune systems from chronic disease and life on the streets — are also starting to beef up hygiene protocols and plan for how to handle potentially infectious clients.

“We’re trying to prevent its arrival or spread here,” said Fred Clayton, president and CEO of the Orlando Union Rescue Mission. “We’re setting up hand-sanitizing stations at all ingress and egress points, putting up signs reminding everyone to use them and wash their hands, and posting notices to guests that if they feel like they have a flu of any kind, a fever or even a cold, to let us know immediately.”

As of Monday, though, Clayton said it’s still uncertain what would happen if those guests report symptoms. He planned to confer with the Florida Department of Health officials in Orange County for guidance.



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