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Residents of Long-Term Facility Got Little Notice Before Arrival Of COVID-Positive Patients

The Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew speaks at a press conference in Tallahassee on July 21, 2020.
screen grab from The Florida Channel video library
The Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew speaks at a press conference in Tallahassee on July 21, 2020.

Florida has 19 COVID isolation centers, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA. These are nursing homes or long-term care facilities that are receiving money from the state to take in people who have COVID-19. They take care of a patient after a hospital discharge until they’re ready to return to their own residences.

And some of these isolation centers have had high numbers of COVID-related infections and deaths before receiving new patients with the disease.

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One new center on the list in Tamarac has actually kept infections and death numbers low, but Danielle Cohen worries about how that may change when 50 new COVID-positive patients come in.

She lives in Atlanta, but these days her focus is on Tamarac and her 98-year-old grandfather, "who is just the light of our lives in harm's way is unnerving," Cohen told WLRN. "I'm going to try not to cry because the thought of what, you know, this could mean is terrifying."

Cohen’s grandfather lives at the Tamarac Rehabilitation and Health Center, where they have about 46 residents. On July 14, he received a memo informing him that the center now has a COVID-19 isolation unit with 50 beds for COVID-positive patients coming in starting July 20, from hospitals within a two-hour radius.

"The wonderful caregivers there have done such a fabulous job of not having any kind of wide spread of the virus, that now they are willingly bringing it in to the buildling," Cohen said.

The residents won’t comingle, the memo adds, but it doesn’t explain how they can guarantee that the coronavirus won’t spread.

So far, two residents of the Tamarac facility who had COVID-19 have died since the pandemic started. That’s according to the Florida Department of Health. It’s had six positive residents and 10 positive staff members. These numbers are fewer than those reported at other isolation centers.

An attempt to reach the Tamarac Rehab's administrator to ask about the plans to safeguard all the residents led to a voice mail. 

"I'm sorry to take your call at this moment. Please leave me a brief voice message and I will get back to you at my earliest convenience," the recording said. Followed by, "sorry, there is no space for recording in this mailbox."

Mary Mayhew, the secretary of AHCA, reassured reporters in Tallahassee about isolation centers at a press conference Tuesday.

"The isolation centers. The federal government has referred to what we've done as an absolute model that we've been able to appropriately provide the right level of care so that hospitals could provide that warm handoff that discharge to these isolation centers," she said. 

AHCA told Danielle Cohen that the last time AHCA came to inspect the center was July 2, and that’s 18 days before the COVID section opened. AHCA has not responded to WLRN about supervising these facilities.

Correction note: The audio version of this story incorrectly identifies Tamarac Rehab as having told Danielle Cohen that the most recent inspection was on July 2. It was AHCA that informed her of this, not Tamarac Rehab.

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Verónica Zaragovia