As Florida joins the nation in weighing the difficult question of how and when to reopen the country, it’s vitally important for everyone to remember that for many, including our long-term care facilities, the battle with COVID-19 is far from over.
Our long-term caregivers are still on the frontline in the fight against this pandemic, and we are fortunate to have a Governor, Secretary of the Agency for Health Administration and Surgeon General who fully understand that emerging from this crisis will require the combined efforts of elected officials, policymakers, the long-term care profession, and the general public.
It’s clear that Gov. Ron DeSantis shares our goal of protecting and balancing the rights of our state’s elders, while also providing transparency. We know that knowledge is critical during any state of emergency which is why we are actively working with our state partners and our long-term care facilities, offering guidance to ensure open dialogue among those facilities and their residents, families, and staff.
We understand the public’s need for more and better information when it comes to facilities impacted by COVID-19. We are proud to partner with the state on ways to create a more consumer-friendly report that provides a clearer picture of COVID-19 status and how nursing homes are working to mitigate the spread of the virus in their facilities.
Every individual working in these facilities knows they are risking their own health on a daily basis so they can help protect our state’s most vulnerable population. These health care heroes deserve all the respect and gratitude we can give them.
Their jobs aren’t simple on a normal day, but right now you can’t imagine the stress and pressure they are all feeling. Even in the face of so many complications, thanks to the work of these front-line caregivers, the virus has been contained to just 1% of the combined 355,000-plus residents and employees at our state’s 3,800 nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
The key to overcoming the crisis — and to addressing the public’s desire for information — is testing. Universal testing for nursing home residents and staff, with quicker results, is needed to help support our centers’ clinical and staffing decisions.
We applaud Gov. DeSantis’ directive to extensively expand the National Guard mobile testing teams, bringing more tests and laboratories into the state, and prioritizing testing in long-term care facilities. Long-term caregivers and residents deserve universal testing and we are hopeful that soon the Governor’s goal is achieved.
We must also supply our frontline caregivers with the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to protect them and their residents. We thank Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moscowitz for working within a worldwide shortage of PPE to scour markets for the necessary gear.
That, combined with ingenuity and support from Floridians making homemade masks and other gear, is aiding our workers. But we cannot stop until every nurse and certified nursing assistant has the right PPE to ensure theirs and their residents’ safety.
As the Governor continues directing resources and support to our centers, from infection control guidance to personal protective equipment to expanded testing, the Florida Health Care Association will continue to work in partnership, supporting our long-term care facilities and the heroic caregivers on the front lines.
There is a great deal of work left to be done, but together we will produce a better outcome for all — especially our elder population.
Emmett Reed is Executive Director of the Florida Health Care Association.