TALLAHASSEE – As the number of residents in long-term care facilities with COVID-19 continues to increase, AARP’s Florida director has asked state officials to explain why they are keeping the names of the facilities from the public.
AARP Director Jeff Johnson sent a letter to Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew on Monday asking the state to provide any federal guidance it is relying on to withhold the names of the facilities that housed 66 long-term care residents who have tested positive for the highly contagious and deadly respiratory disease.
“What we do not know, and what Floridians with family members in long-term care facilities or who have interplay with those facilities are desperate to know, is which facilities have reported cases,” Johnson wrote in his letter to Mayhew, whose agency is charged with regulating nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
The News Service of Florida has reported that the state refused to disclose the names of the facilities, citing privacy concerns. In daily updates about COVID-19 cases across the state, officials provide the number of long-term care residents who have been infected and the counties in which they live --- but not more detailed information about the facilities.
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In his letter to Mayhew, Johnson said that is not enough.
“As someone whose parents resided in long-term care facilities in Duval County, I can appreciate the anguish of family members, friends, neighbors, and community leaders who know that there are 17 cases of coronavirus within facilities in the county but do not know if their loved ones, are in those facilities or don’t know if they have workers or contractors from those facilities with whom they may come into physical contact, “ he said.
While Johnson cited 17 cases in Duval County long-term care facilities, a Department of Health report Monday put the number at 19.
The Agency for Health Care Administration did not have immediate comment on Johnson’s letter.
Florida had nearly 21.48 million residents as of July 1, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. An estimated 20.5 percent are 65 or older. Florida has 691 licensed nursing homes that provide 84,258 beds and another 3,000-plus licensed ALFs that offer 106,103 beds.
The spread of the virus in long term care facilities is a concern. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the findings of an analysis of the Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing home outside Seattle where 129 people, including 81 residents, were infected. Ultimately, the agency found that COVID-19 “has the potential to result in high attack rates among residents, staff members and visitors” after being introduced into a facility.
The virus also has a way of spreading to nearby health-care facilities, federal and Washington state health officials involved in the investigation discovered. The analysis found that at least eight other long-term care facilities in the King County area outside of Seattle had reported one or more confirmed COVID-19 case by March 9, just 10 days after the Life Care Center of Kirkland reported its first case.
The number of residents at Florida long-term care facilities who have tested positive for COVID-19 has steadily increased, as have the number of counties where they reside. As of Monday, the state reported 66 infections in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities in 11 counties. Those counties are Broward, Duval, Baker, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Clay, Bradford, Orange, Citrus and Charlotte.