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State Touts Isolation Centers For COVID-19 Patients, But South Florida Locations Raise Concerns

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Some nursing homes in South Florida, being used as isolation centers for COVID-19 patients, have many problems on their records.

Florida has 12 nursing homes that serve as isolation centers, and four of those are in South Florida. When a hospital discharges a COVID-positive patient, it calls one of these facilities to see if the person can recover at an isolation center before going home.
 
A patient must test negative twice before returning to their permanent nursing home or assisted living facility.

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Some of these nursing homes, though, have many problems on their records. Take last month, when WLRN reported about one of these isolation centers, a nursing home called Nspire Healthcare in Lauderhill. The city's mayor, Ken Thurston, told WLRN the state should not have chosen this place because of high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, recently added a few other nursing homes in South Florida to serve as these centers. One of them, called Oasis Health and Rehabilitation Center in Lake Worth, has about 15 COVID-19 deaths on record.

Avanté at Boca has had about 20 COVID-19 positive patients and 20 staff members. State data don't identify whether these are all permanent residents or whether some are isolation center patients, and Avanté didn't answer questions about whether these people have been cured. What's more, Avanté has been on AHCA's watch list for many years and it has been fined more than $76,000, according to ProPublica. It has a below-average rating on Medicare.gov. It has 17 health citations, too. 

Being on the watchlist means not meeting minimum state standards at an inspection or the company's in bankruptcy.

We called Michael Brevda for some information, he's the managing partner at Senior Justice Law Firm and specializes in nursing home neglect litigation. 

As he points out, Avanté's Boca Raton location isn't the only of the company's facilities on the watch list.

"So seeing Avanté not just having Avanté at Boca Raton but also Avanté at Lake Worth and Avanté in Ormond Beach, all three making the watch list, that is concerning," Brevda said, adding that the state should be transparent about why it chose this company to care for COVID-19 patients.

"There are plenty of facilities in the state of Florida that have not been historically listed on the nursing home watchlist that also don't have double-digit positive covid numbers," he said.

WLRN has asked AHCA how it vets these facilities. AHCA wrote that it will reply to us, but they had not replied as of Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, an Avanté executive appeared at a Miami press conference Tuesday with Gov. Ron DeSantis. Kim Biegasiewicz, Avanté Group's vice president of clinical services, said the company put stringent infection control policies at its facilities "to ensure that our residents are getting the most up to date, most current care, most important infection control practices provided to them while they're in this facility."

Avanté is also operating another isolation center, called the Miami Care Center, which was formerly the Pan American Hospital.

Biegavitz wrote to WLRN that a federal infection control survey found no deficiencies and several state visits didn't either, but she did not explain, then, why AHCA continues to list double-digit cases or keep it on the watchlist.

We'd like to hear from you, particularly if you have a family member in a South Florida nursing home or long-term care facility, and have not received answers you seek related to care during the pandemic. Fill out our form here.