Deaths at long-term care facilities account for more than a quarter of the more than 1,000 people in Florida who have died from COVID-19. After weeks of increasing pressure, the governor released the names of the facilities with reported cases of COVID-19.
But that list contained incorrect and, some have said, incomplete information. The number of current cases, the status of those infections, and the number of fatalities at specific homes remain unknown.
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On the Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson was joined by Mary Ellen Klas, the capital bureau chief for the Miami Herald, and Marty Goetz, Chief Executive Officer of River Garden Senior Services in Jacksonville.
Here’s an excerpt from the conversation:
Tom Hudson: The state list has more than 300 facilities on it. What’s missing?
MARY ELLEN KLAS: Well, we have the names of the facilities, but we don't have any indication of how many of them have current positive cases. How many of them have people who maybe were hospitalized and so they don't have any current cases? We also don't know how many on this list are cases related to residents or staff members. And, we don't know how many at each facility resulted in somebody dying. So, there's a lot of incomplete information. And that is having an impact on how families are assessing what's going on.
Tom Hudson: What's the rationale from the administration for, number one, their reluctance to release the information in the first place, and then the format in which it has been finally released?
KLAS: We have been trying to get them to release the names of these facilities for over a month, and they never really gave us a rationale. There have been some in the industry who said it shouldn't be released because that violates people's privacy. But not everyone in the industry, in the nursing home and assisted living communities are all in agreement with that. So, we never got a clearer idea as to why not.
As to the reason for right now, the state is releasing more information about prisons and each individual prison than they are at each individual nursing home or assisted living facility. The state now will tell you how many staff have been tested positive at each prison—how many inmates at each prison. We don't even know that nursing homes.
Tom Hudson: What nursing home information have other states released?
KLAS: So, when it comes to privacy and the legal questions about that, it's pretty clear that that's not an issue. Nobody is asking for individual names of residents or staff members who've been tested positive. Other states have released so much more information, and they still have to abide by the same criteria and privacy guidelines as Florida. So, it is clearly a choice here why we're not getting more information.
And I think it has an implication in some ways. I've talked to some worried family members. They want to know whether their facility has a current positive case. Their relatives are getting anxious. They want to know whether they should bring that person home and have them stay with them. But they don't know the risk. And they don't know if that person is then exposed to somebody. So, some facilities are going forward and putting on their website, whether or not they have current cases. Or even more importantly, if they have no current cases, because the absence of information for a while was just as frightening as knowing whether there was a COVID case at a nursing home or not.
Tom Hudson: Marty, how about your communications back and forth to the Department of Health? The state agency that in control of the COVID-19 information. What's that experience been like for you as a nursing home CEO?
MARTY GOETZ: We're contacted periodically by the Duval County Department of Health. We're in contact with the State Emergency Operations Center. And all of our health care providers have to report daily to their emergency center.
Tom Hudson: What do you have to report daily, Marty?
GOETZ: They want census. They want to know the status of anybody who's been tested.
Tom Hudson: But are their tests going on daily?
GOETZ: Here's the real problem. We say we know that upwards of 20, 25 percent of people who are positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic, which means they're going to slide right past my screening at the gate. What has to occur and what I demanded in my letter ten days ago to the governor, to the surgeon general, and to the secretary of the Agency for Healthcare Administration, was that they go into facilities and test everyone.