Gov. Ron DeSantis is fond of saying his policies “put seniors first.” But his administration’s decision to stop publishing data on the numbers of COVID-19-related resident deaths at long-term care facilities and infection rates for long-term care staff and residents may put seniors last, according to one critic.
Long-term care providers each day are required to report to the state the number of COVID-19 infections among staff and residents and the number of residents and staff who have died from COVID-19-related illness. But the state stopped publishing the information three weeks ago.
“What happened to seniors first? It seems seniors are being pushed to the back of the line. Gov. DeSantis is wanting his ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ moment: blink his eyes, make the data disappear and hope the pandemic is over in nursing homes and (assisted living facilities),” Brian Lee, executive director of nursing-home watchdog group Families for Better Care, told The News Service of Florida. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. There are many unvaccinated residents and staff and outbreaks could still become a real possibility real fast. Floridians rely on this information to keep their loved ones safe.”
Lee, a former long-term care ombudsman in Florida, first flagged the stale data on social media two weeks ago. “The data tracker has not been updated in more than a week. Residents, health care heroes and their families need this data. Please fix,” Lee tweeted on May 14.
He followed up with additional tweets and, when they went unanswered, sent an email to Florida Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees on May 25. In the correspondence, Lee thanked Rivkees for his leadership and asked whether the department, which publishes the COVID-19 data, intentionally had stopped updating the long-term care facility information or if it was an oversight.
Two hours later, Lee received an email from the health department, which was also copied to the state Agency for Health Care Administration. In its response, the Department of Health told Lee that it wasn’t responsible for the lag in updated data, saying it only posts data AHCA sends its way.
“We have copied AHCA on this message for their input regarding the timeline for any updates,” DOH wrote in its response. Lee said he has not heard back from AHCA, though.
Meanwhile, in a statement provided to the News Service, DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw said the state would resume publishing the information but on a weekly, instead of daily, basis. “For your information, the (long-term care facility) statistics are still trending in the right direction,” Pushaw said in the statement.
According to Pushaw, there were 215 residents currently residing at assisted-living facilities and skilled nursing facilities who were COVID-19-positive as of May 27. That data doesn’t include the number of COVID-19-positive residents who have been transferred from long-term care facilities to hospitals for treatment or have been discharged.
There were 216 COVID-19-positive staff as of May 27, which is less than 1% of the 171,814 staff who work at long-term care facilities, Pushaw said, noting that’s a 27% dip in staff infection rates since May 14.
“Overall, Florida is one of the top 10 safest states for seniors, ranking No. 41 in the country for COVID-19 death rate among seniors 65 and older,” Pushaw said. “With such high populations of seniors and (long-term care facility) residents in our state, this is truly remarkable. “
What’s truly remarkable for Lee, though, is that Texas this week codified into law that information about communicable disease outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities be made available to families.
“It looks as though Texas is nudging ahead of Florida in putting seniors first,” Lee said.
Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.