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Names Of Nursing Homes Kept Secret As Coronavirus Spreads

Closeup hand of sick elderly patient lying on the bed in hospital
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Florida’s latest COVID-19 report shows elderly citizens make up 82% of the state’s 668 deaths from coronavirus. Twenty percent of COVD-19 cases are found in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. The state has been reluctant to provide a list of which facilities are the most affected and advocates pushing  for that information to be released.

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently said the state would increase testing in long-term care facilities.

“I am directing the Florida National Guard to create more Strike teams to significantly ramp up testing in long term care facilities," DeSantis said. "They have already visited and tested I believe 100’s of residents in South Florida with the National Guard Strike teams, we are going to expand that to 10 teams of four and we’ll probably expand it beyond there as long as we have enough equipment and PPE [Personal Protective Equipment].”

But to Brian Lee, that’s not good enough. Lee's the former Ombudsman for the Department of Elder Affairs, and now heads the advocacy group Families for Better Care.

"If you really want to get ahead of this virus the best way to do it in these facilities is to test everyone. We already know that some providers are doing that on their own," he said. "But find a way to get tests to these facilities to start testing the residents, start testing all the health care workers. Because we know that know people can be walking around their ticking time bombs with this virus, they're asymptomatic."

He says the state should be naming which facilities have recorded positive tests.

"They keep arguing that there are HIPAA privacy laws that are in place here and by exposing this information would potentially reveal personal health information of residents and I think that that’s a misread of HIPAA."

DeSantis said most of the cases in nursing homes are amongst the staff. But the data given to the public doesn’t show that. However, it does show that the virus kills nearly a tenth of every elderly person that catches it. Lee thinks because of how lethal it is families should be notified as soon as an outbreak occurs so they can make sound decisions.

"There’s no requirement for facilities to contact families and let them know there’s a COVID-19 outbreak. So Ohio took it upon themselves, they recognized that fact, and guess what their governor did?" Lee said. "He made a requirement that through an executive order that there has to be within 24 hours, a notification if there’s a COVID outbreak happening in their facilities. That helps."

The Florida Health Care Association represents over 80% of the state’s nursing homes. Communications Director Kristen Knapp says she’s telling nursing homes to be transparent.

"I did a webinar Wednesday with about 500 providers where I encourage them, again best practice, [to] communicate with your family members at a local level," Knapp said. "The conversation needs to happen between the facility and family and their appropriate stakeholders and their staff."

Overall there have been 1,454 positive cases from long-term care facilities. Where those cases are from remains a mystery.