In Miami, Coronavirus Worries Turn to Senior Centers

Miami Herald

by Douglas Hanks and Ben Conarck

Mar 2, 2020

More than two dozen executives from senior centers, nursing homes and eldercare providers from across Miami-Dade gathered at the county mayor’s office Monday to address how they plan to handle the coronavirus threat in Miami.

The closed-door gathering highlighted the main risk from coronavirus, a flu-like ailment that experts say is most dangerous for the elderly and people with weakened health. That’s put Florida’s eldercare industry on high alert after the state’s disclosure over the weekend that two people in the Sunshine State had tested positive for the virus.

“Of course, we’re concerned,” said Elaine Bloom, president of the Plaza Health Network skilled-nursing center in North Miami Beach, before joining Mayor Carlos Gimenez and other county administrators for the nearly two-hour meeting.

Gimenez said his top worry centers on senior centers where clients arrive for a meal and social activities, but return home at the end of the day. “The nursing homes, they have medical personnel. While I’m concerned, I’m not as concerned” as I am about senior centers, he said.

The mayor, a former Miami fire chief, said he’s asked administrators to work with elderly-care groups to draft contingency plans for coronavirus outbreaks, including what to do if seniors suddenly can’t go to their neighborhood center for food. “If it gets to be that extreme, how do we provide services to those folks at their domiciles?”

“It’s a very serious thing for us,” said Luz Borges, an administrator at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers network.

While small bottles of sanitizer are already available for staff and clients, Borges said larger wall-mounted dispensers should arrive Tuesday. Little Havana’s cafeteria workers already wear masks and gloves, but Borges said she’s suddenly having trouble ordering replacements.

“There’s a shortage of masks right now,” said Borges, director of healthcare services for the network, which has 14 senior centers.

Advocates for elderly residents say coronavirus poses a grave threat for nursing homes, assisted living facilities (known as ALFs) and senior-care centers across Florida.

Brian Lee, executive director of the senior care advocacy group Families for Better Care, said that Florida facilities have generally had a poor track record of preventing and containing infections for quite some time. More than 460 of 700 nursing homes in Florida were cited for infection control issues in the last three years, according to the latest federal data.

“That just perpetuates the possibility of a nightmare,” Lee said. The facilities “are going to have to go above and beyond with the threat of this coming to their shores. This is going to be serious and unlike anything we’ve seen in the past.”

Lee said that the virus’ incubation period, which scientists have estimated can run anywhere from two to 14 days, will pose logistical challenges to monitoring for potential infections. He said facilities should be vigilant about not letting people who are showing signs of illness visit their facilities.

Staffing will be another major concern, Lee said. Nursing home and assisted living facilities struggle to maintain appropriate staffing levels even without the threat of a contagion, he added. It’s something the facilities already see with hurricanes.

“But hurricanes come and go,” Lee said. “This thing could linger for months, and the threat of people not coming to work because of fear of illness could be catastrophic for the senior care sector.”



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