Reopen Florida Task Force prepares to hand recommendations to governor

Task force to reopen Florida faces a Friday deadline

Reopen Florida Task Force members have just one day left to iron out their recommendations for Gov. Ron DeSantis on when and how the state should reopen its economy.

Task force members heard Thursday morning from leaders in the agriculture, health care, education and construction industries.

Leaders in the health care industry expressed concern about their facilities when elective surgeries are allowed to begin again.

Florida hospital CEOs say 25-40% of hospital revenues were lost to canceling elective surgeries, and at the same time, they had to pay for additional staffing and medical equipment, overtime hours, staff benefits and the unexpected costs for masks, gowns and gloves. They've also had increased intensive care costs and the cost of environmental cleaning.

Physicians say they are also concerned about the number of elective surgeries put on hold, and how the patients' conditions might have worsened in the meantime.

“For example, you could have someone come into a hospital that has a problem with their gall bladder, it’s determined the gall bladder should come out, they wait three weeks, four or five weeks, and the gall bladder could become septic, over a period of time,” said John Couris, CEO of Tampa Hospital.

Leaders in the agriculture industry also talked Thursday about losing millions of dollars in crops and dairy products when the economy shut down.

Some farmers said they were forced out of business and may not be able to recover.

Many farmers don’t know how much to plant this season because of the economic uncertainty

“If we don’t get some help, there will be growers who will go out of business,” said Mike Joyner, the president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. “As far as economic outlook, our growers are going to be making planting decisions in late July.”

Farmers are requesting a timeline of reopening so they know what to expect.

All of the recommendations discussed this week will be passed on to the governor by Friday evening.

Here's a breakdown of subcommittee reports Thursday:

Agriculture: The state’s farmers have lost more than a half-billion dollars in crops over the last month, said Joyner. He said much of the loss has come from the near-shutdown of institutional buyers such as hotels, restaurants and schools. He said those unused crops and products cannot simply be re-routed to supermarkets because they are already fully supplied. He said food banks and charities are also turning away donated food because their storage areas are full. Still, Publix announced Thursday it is buying 150,000 pounds (68,000 kilograms) of produce and 43,500 gallons (164,665 litres) of milk for donation to food banks in the Southeastern U.S.

Hospitals: Mary Mayhew, the secretary of Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration, said as the state’s hospitals have been cleared of patients except for COVID-19 and others seriously ill, the percentage of occupied beds has fallen from almost 90% to less than 60% over the last month, costing them millions in revenue. She said hospitals lose on average more than $6,000 per COVID-19 patient because of the extra care and staff needed to treat them. Couris called on the governor to again allow elective surgeries beginning May 9 as planned. He said elective surgeries such as gall bladder removal and joint replacement can only be delayed so long before they potentially create long-term or dangerous health problems.

Education: Eric Hall, senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, said preschools reopening will be a key part to getting parents back to work, particularly in communities that have a high need. He said the state should do mapping to show where there are gaps and where centers are open. Evelio Torres, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade County Early Learning Coalition pointed out that in a state as diverse as Florida, the plan to reopen preschools needs to be adapted to different regions.

Construction: AJ de Moya, the vice president of a Miami-based highway and bridge construction company, told his subcommittee that while road work has continued, 40% of the state’s overall construction workforce is at risk of unemployment. He said the Great Recession decimated the construction workforce and the state can’t afford that again.

About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.