JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did Saturday afternoon what advocates, families and journalists have been asking him to do for weeks: he ordered the Department of Health to release a list of elder-care facilities with cases of COVID-19.
But the disclosure of that list has led to more confusion than intended.
Veronica Catoe, chief executive officer for the Florida Assisted-Living Association, said the list is full of errors. She said some facilities listed claim to have no cases of COVID-19, and some facilities with cases aren’t listed.
“As far as the errors in data, it’s very distressing,” she said. “I mean, I had a member on the phone in tears. I have had members irate because they are saying, ‘I have done everything possible,’ and they are like, ‘Why am I on this list?’”
Added Catoe: “I know another one of our members that was highlighted at the beginning of this at Lincoln Manor, he had an employee that worked half of a shift one day and was positive. But they were not on the list.”
There was only one facility in St. Johns County that made the list: Starling at Nocatee. When the list was released on Saturday, health department data showed a total of five cases of COVID-19 at the county’s long-term care facilities.
The data led families with loved ones at Starling at Nocatee to believe those five cases were at the facility. Since then, the state’s data has been changed to reflect that there are only two such cases in St. Johns County.
Management for Starling at Nocatee said those cases are not at their facility, but they remain the only long-term care facility in St. Johns County listed as having COVID-19 cases.
At the time, management told families in that they had “no cases of COVID-19 in any of their communities.”
In an email sent out Tuesday, management told families the only case was a worker who chose to self-quarantine more than four weeks ago and tested positive two weeks into isolation. The emailed noted that the employee did not work for an additional two weeks.
“The consensus and confirmation had been that this employee was not a risk to our residents," said Megan Kennedy, Starling’s vice president of operations. “She had not been in the community for an extended period and there was no exposure due to her positive test results."
Before Starling’s staff knew the list was released, she said, they began getting calls from concerned families.
“First, it was concerning because it made it look like we had an outbreak in our communities, and presently we have zero cases in any of our communities,” Kennedy said. “I do think it was the right thing to do to release the list. I just wish it was accurate information that was released because now panic has been created, distrust has been created.”
“While the information has good intent behind it, I just wish the information would have been accurate,” she added.
For weeks, media and advocacy organizations had been calling for the state to name the facilities with confirmed cases, but the state resisted those efforts.
Besides inaccuracies, the list released by the Department of Health and Agency for Health Care Administration is also incomplete. It does not provide data showing how many cases among residents and staff are at each facility. Nor does it show how many people from each facility have been tested, or hospitalized for that matter.
The health department does, however, provide data on the number of cases documented in each county.
Clay County, for instance, has 115 COVID-19 cases among residents or staff in long-term care facilities, according to the state data. The county has the sixth most cases in such facilities in the state. Officials say those cases come from six facilities across the county, but without concrete details, residents’ loved ones are mostly in the dark.
Catoe said the Florida Assisted-Living Association is encouraging its members to inform families of positive cases and to keep them updated about any changes at least every week. At this point, she said, the list needs to be out there, but she also said it needs to be vetted thoroughly.
“It wasn’t checked. It was put out there and I have several members...that were like, ‘We are not supposed to be on this list,’" she said. "They are working with their departments to get it corrected, but some of it is still outstanding. Now you have families upset and concerned that ‘Oh my mom’s in there and you never notified me.’ Well no, that’s not the case. So, now they are having to explain to all the families and the residents to try to calm that down.”