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As Cases Rise In Leon County Long-Term Care Facilities Advocates Call For Transparency

Nurse consoling her elderly patient by holding her hands.
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According to the latest Florida Department of Health COVID-19 report, Leon County is 4th in the state when it comes to coronavirus infections in long-term care facilities. Elder care advocates are calling on the state to release more information.

Leon County has at least 60 cases of COVID-19 reported from long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities -- nearly 40% of total cases in those facilities statewide.  Local reports show 33 residents and three staff members at Tallahassee Developmental Center have tested positive for the virus, with more tests pending.

Recently, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state would increase testing in those 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 hundreds 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.”

But that’s not good enough, says Brian Lee. The former Ombudsman for the Department of Elder Affairs 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," Lee 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 they're 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. I think it’s just being twisted," Lee said.

DeSantis said the data shows most of the cases in nursing homes are amongst the staff. But that information isn’t available to the public. Lee thinks families should be notified so they can make sound decisions.

"Protecting the anonymity of providers is again disadvantageous for people to make health care decisions," Lee said. "It goes back to at the end of the day who is making health care decisions for my loved one, and right now the state is doing that."

Infections in long-term care facilities also represent 40% of Leon County's total coronavirus cases.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.