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State Issues Testing Orders For Nursing Homes, Assisted-Living Facilities

Twenty-one residents and six staff members at the Freedom Square Seminole Nursing Pavilion tested positive for COVID-19. The patients were transported to three local hospitals along with other residents at risk.
Twenty-one residents and six staff members at the Freedom Square Seminole Nursing Pavilion tested positive for COVID-19. The patients were transported to three local hospitals along with other residents at risk.

With more than 700 COVID-19 deaths linked to long-term care facilities, the state Agency for Health Care Administration said Sunday it has issued emergency orders to bolster testing of staff members at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

The orders require nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to allow the Florida Department of Health into their buildings for infection control and conducting COVID-19 testing of residents and staff. When the department enters the buildings, the nursing homes and assisted-living facilities will need to require staff members to submit to tests.

Also, the long-term care facilities will need to comply with directives about making off-duty staff members available for testing. The orders also apply to “authorized agents” of the department.

The orders raise the possibility nursing homes and assisted-living facilities could face license revocations, suspensions or fines for not complying. The Agency for Health Care Administration regulates long-term care facilities.

“The challenge we face is mitigating and containing the spread of this deadly virus in our long-term care facilities,” Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew said in a prepared statement.

“To guard against the rapid spread of COVID-19, I am issuing emergency rules for our nursing homes and assisted-living facilities requiring that every facility allow access to the Department of Health or their authorized representative for mandatory testing for all facility staff by the Florida Department of Health during testing visits. These rules will also require every facility to allow access to the Department of Health or their authorized representative for infection prevention and control purposes.”

With COVID-19 particularly dangerous to seniors and people with underlying medical conditions, the state has taken a series of steps --- including blocking visitors --- to try to prevent spread of the respiratory disease in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

But numbers of cases and deaths involving facility residents and staff members have continued to steadily increase. As of a Sunday morning count, for example, 703 residents or staff members of long-term care facilities had died from the disease --- 40.8 percent of all of the COVID-19 deaths in the state.

Some facilities have seen large numbers of deaths. State figures show that 14 facilities in places ranging Suwannee County in rural North Florida to Miami-Dade County in urban South Florida have had 10 or more COVID-19 deaths.

Six of those facilities are in the Tampa Bay area: Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation and Nursing Services, part of Freedom Square of Seminole, in Pinellas County has the most verified deaths in the state with 23 - 22 patients and one staff member.

Braden River Rehabilitation Center in Manatee County and Highlands Lake Center in Polk County, along with a Suwannee County facility have all had 18 deaths. Facilities in Manatee, Hillsborough and Sarasota counties have also had more than 10 or more verified deaths.

The issuance of the orders about testing followed an announcement last week by the Agency for Health Care Administration that nursing homes are required to transfer residents with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 to places such as hospitals if the homes can’t meet isolation requirements. 

Mayhew, in an interview last week with The News Service of Florida, said that “we have a number of skilled nursing facilities that, simply because of their physical plants, are challenged to provide the isolation that is needed to prevent the spread. We can't have false expectations of these facilities.”

“We cannot lose sight of the importance of protecting our elderly and transferring, when appropriate, out of a long-term care facility, positive or suspected COVID-positive residents when the facility can’t meet that level of isolation and infection prevention control,” she said.

Additional reporting by Mark Schreiner

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