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Ron DeSantis says Florida has done the most to protect its elderly population. Image via AP.

Coronavirus in Florida

Gov. DeSantis touts Florida’s elder response as country’s best

Keeping nursing home residents safe has been a number one priority.

As Florida sees more people hospitalized with COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state is continuing to improve hospital availability and protect the elderly.

Emergency department visits with symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu increased throughout June. And while ICUs still have available beds — around 20% are unoccupied — hospitals are having to isolate more individuals who test positive despite entering the facilities for other ailments.

During a Tuesday visit to Miami Care Center, formerly the Pan American Hospital, DeSantis highlighted COVID-19 outpatient nursing home facilities and anticipated manpower assistance from the federal government.

The 12th and latest COVID-19-dedicated nursing home, operated by the Avante Group, opened earlier this month. The 150-bed center plans to bring 100 nurses on board over the next month.

“All in all, I don’t think any other state in the country has done what we’ve done to protect the vulnerable here in the state of Florida,” the Governor said. “This is another big step in that direction, and I think it’s going to be a really important tool to help protect vulnerable folks.”

From the start of the pandemic, the state ordered that hospitals cannot release nursing home residents back to those facilities if they test positive for the virus. With some people testing positive with lingering COVID-19 indicators days or weeks after they seemingly recover, the state began opening the transitional nursing homes that can handle stable coronavirus patients.

“Frankly, we said if there’s any risk that they are positive, they cannot go back,” said Mary Mayhew, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). “We know, not only is that population the most vulnerable to fatality, the residential setting is at greatest risk for rapid transmission.”

Treating someone with COVID-19 requires four times the personnel than treatment would otherwise require, and hospitals are caught out in the low season of their hiring cycle.

The transitional facilities give at-risk nursing home residents “a place to go that is safe, provide relief to the hospitals, relieve some of that capacity from the hospital to the nursing home setting,” said Avante Group Vice President Kimberly Biegasiewicz.

Florida’s request to the federal government for more hospital personnel is being processed, DeSantis said, encouraged by discussions with Vice President Mike Pence over the past week.

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Mayhew also highlighted AHCA’s regional approach to communication with local governments.

“Government is not often accused of being nimble, but we have done everything possible to respond timely to the needs and the demands around the state,” she said.

DeSantis and health professionals have repeatedly tried to assuage fears that hospitals are unsafe. Medical experts are reporting that people are delaying entering the hospital until their symptoms worsen, which becomes problematic for heart conditions and other serious illnesses.

“This virus is one part of health,” the Governor said. “There’s a whole host of other things that we’ve also got to be concerned with.”

Written By

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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