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Industry Leader Warns Costs Could Rise At Fla. Long-Term Care Centers As Visitors Return

Caridad Smith uses hand sanitizer before eating lunch at Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers of Dade County, Inc., on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Miami.
Caridad Smith uses hand sanitizer before eating lunch at Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers of Dade County, Inc., on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Miami.

With coronavirus-related restrictions at long-term care facilities being eased, an industry leader is warning that without protections against civil liability there will be more legal cases and eventually an increase in insurance rates.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has lifted the ban on visitors at long-term care facilities enacted to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and stopped state-funded and required testing at those facilities.

Gov. DeSantis issued the executive order banning visitation at long-term care facilities in March to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable residents from the virus. On Sept. 1 he ended that ban. State-funded and required testing in assisted living facilities stopped on Sept. 13.

Veronica Catoe, CEO of the Florida Assisted Living Association, worries these moves could have unintended consequences.

“Assisted living facilities in the state that I work with and represent are happy to have families reunited,” she said. “However, now there’s no benchmark to even see if cases start to increase, at least in assisted living [facilities], and there are many cases of asymptomatic staff members that came up, so how many other asymptomatic general population people do we have that could pass it on during one of these visits?”

Catoe said these facilities are doing everything they can to protect residents and staff, but she said protections should still be put in place for facilities against civil liability.

“Other states have recognized the potential long-term problems and are implementing protections. Why isn't our governor?” she asked, rhetorically. “More legal cases, no matter the outcome, will eventually increase insurance rates, even if the claims are not in our state. Insurance rates were already climbing in long-term care centers in Florida before COVID-19. Assisted living facilities in particular have not received any financial relief thus far.”

She recommended reinstating state-funded and required testing for at least a month to see if there is a rise in cases among residents.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

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