State

Florida Nursing Homes Have High COVID-19 Rates

The American Association of Retired Persons released a nationwide dashboard to track COVID-19 data across the United States. Five key statistics revealed that Florida has higher than average COVID-19 rates.

The AARP believes that federal policymakers have been slow to respond to this crisis, and no state has done a good enough job to stem the loss of life.

In response, the AARP proposed a five-part plan to protect nursing home and long-term care facility residents. This plan involves regular testing, improved transparency, virtual visitation, quality care for residents and rejection of immunity for LTC facilities related to COVID-19.

The database consists of self-reported data from nursing homes available to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. It covers an almost one-month time frame from Aug. 24 to Sept. 20.

Out of the five key measures, Florida exceeded the national average on three: nursing home resident deaths, nursing home resident cases and staff COVID-19 cases.

The chart compares AARP’s data across the top five states with the highest percentage of the population that is age 65 or older. While these five states all have relatively older populations with 18.7% to 20.6% of residents age 65 or older, their COVID-19 rates differ dramatically.

Maine and Delaware have relatively low cases and deaths. Vermont has zero nursing home cases and deaths according to AARP’s data.

Florida’s and West Virginia’s deaths per 100 residents are slightly above the average. Even with these similar death rates, Florida’s cases per 100 residents are the highest on this chart.

However, Florida’s measures are not the highest of all states.

The highest case rate is 5.9 cases per 100 residents compared to Florida’s 4.5 cases. Florida’s death rate is .69 while the national average is nearly double at 1.2 deaths per 100 residents.

AARP Florida spokesman Dave Bruns said Florida is the “grayest” state in the nation. One in five residents is age 65 or older, or 20.4% of the population, compared to 13.4% nationally.

With that high a percentage of vulnerable residents, Florida needs to especially pay attention to their COVID-19 procedures in nursing homes and LTC facilities. “If there is any place that should be focusing on this, it should be the Sunshine State,” Bruns told The News Service of Florida.

On Sept. 1, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., issued DEM Order No. 20-009 to allow visitation in nursing homes and LTC facilities. Visitation requirements were loosened even more when DeSantis issued DEM Order No. 20-011 on Oct. 22.

The DEM Order expanded visitation to include children and allow outdoor visitation. Social distancing guidelines have been removed from those deemed “compassionate caregivers.” Now those caregivers are allowed to hug their loved ones for the first time in months.

The decision was praised by some Floridians and criticized by others. While DeSantis realized that opening visitation could lead to more deaths, the need for visitation could not be ignored.

“There have been instances in which some of these places had no visitors for a long time. You still had outbreaks,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Fort Myers. The Florida governor has consistently argued that lockdowns are ineffective and bad for people’s health.

Critics claim that DeSantis’s relaxed stance on testing and visitation have led to Florida’s relatively high COVID-19 infection rates.

Florida cut back on staff testing requirements last month. Instead of all facilities testing biweekly, the amount of testing is dependent on the COVID-19 positivity rate of respective communities.

On the remaining two measures, Florida fared better than average. Florida has more personal protective equipment and fewer staffing shortages compared to the rest of the country.  

Nevertheless, there’s still room for improvement in Florida.

In a statement to the News Service, Florida Health Care Association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said, “More can always be done to improve our state’s long-term services and support system for our seniors and individuals with disabilities.”

Featured image: Portrait of an elderly man. Unmodified photo by Graham Crumb used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3euk0qs)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.   

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