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Emmett Reed: Why nursing homes need priority for ‘Families First’ COVID-19 relief package

In such an environment, one case can quickly turn into an outbreak.

Across Florida, our country and around the globe, people everywhere are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

But none are more at risk from this deadly virus than our elder population, especially those in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

The federal government is working to respond appropriately, with relief packages including such provisions as paid sick leave, free testing and expanded unemployment benefits.

The package signed by President Donald Trump on March 18 includes an important provision for a temporary 6.2% increase in federal payments for Medicaid reimbursements.

That COVID-19 relief package doesn’t impose restrictions on how state governments can use this Medicaid increase.

Usually greater flexibility like this is a good thing, but in this case, it raises the possibility that significant portions of the money sent to states will not be directed where it is most needed: long-term care providers.

No group is at greater risk than frail nursing homes and assisted living residents, and a top priority for Florida leadership should be providing support and funding to the centers and the dedicated staff caring for them.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are in dire need of help. Right now. Immediately. They are struggling to secure personal protective equipment, and most lack the kind of specialty equipment, trained staff, and rooms to properly treat possible coronavirus patients.

Stopping the spread of the virus is crucial in these facilities, which by their nature place frail elderly residents in close proximity and have staff interacting closely.

In such an environment, one case can quickly turn into an outbreak.

We have all seen the statistics showing that older citizens suffer far higher fatality rates than the overall population – more than three times higher for people in their 70s and more than six times higher for those in their 80s.

Because of these shocking numbers, new standards have been imposed to protect our residents, but they carry significant additional costs.

The requirements include:

  • New screening requirements for staff and essential health care visitors.
  • Labor costs related to overtime and agency costs to fill staff shortages.
  • Supply costs for personal protective equipment and other necessary items, when they are available.
  • New rules prohibiting communal meals, requiring extra staff to deliver meals and feed residents in their rooms.
  • Technology to help keep residents and families connected.

The funding package signed by the President will play a critical role in saving lives.

We urge Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature to ensure that our most vulnerable are a top priority when it comes to distributing those federal dollars.

To do this, they must direct the additional funding to help nursing homes manage through this crisis and have access to vital resources so they can continue to keep their residents safe.

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Emmett Reed is Executive Director of the Florida Health Care Association.

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