JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As positive cases of coronavirus in Florida’s long-term care facilities fade, the state is dialing back some of the measures put in place to help these facilities cope with the pandemic.
The state will no longer provide testing to the workers who staff long-term care facilities and it’s beginning to phase out so-called isolation centers, where nursing home and eldercare patients who tested positive for COVID-19 were sent to curb outbreaks at facilities statewide.
But not everyone’s convinced this is the right move — advocates for families who have loved ones in these facilities warn that it could backfire with potentially deadly consequences.
“I think this is a mistake by the state,” said Brian Lee, executive director for Families for Better Care, a nonprofit group that advocates for better conditions inside long-term care facilities.
Starting Friday, the state stopped admitting patients to 18 of 23 isolation centers throughout the state. The remaining five, including Dolphin Pointe in Jacksonville, will stop on Oct. 1.
According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, the state is making these changes based on a dramatic drop in positive cases among long-term care facility patients and staff.
A News4Jax search of Florida Department of Health records shows that cases in long-term care facilities peaked in July with 5,877 residents and 7,298 employee testing positive. Now, the state reports 2,513 cases among these patients and 3,202 more among staff.
“And the reason why that’s happening, by and large, is because of the testing,” Lee said.
The state ended its contract with the vendor providing testing to long-term care facilities, even as a panel formed by Gov. Ron DeSantis eyes ways to let visitors return to these facilities.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday released recommendations on how these facilities can safely reopen to visitors. They included providing outdoor and indoor visitation, screening visitors and allowing compassionate care visits.
Lee expressed concerns about how relaxing policies protecting long-term care facilities could impact the health and safety of their residents and the employees who take care of them.
“I think you’re going to see people that are going to be inadvertently exposed, that there can be a surge in the number of cases going forward and also, hate to say it, the number of deaths,” he said.