Florida lawmaker questions company providing contact tracing

Woman says she was paid but never did any contact tracing work

A Central Florida Congressman is demanding answers from one of the companies the state of Florida pays to provide contact tracing.

ORLANDO, Fla. – A Central Florida Congressman is demanding answers from one of the companies the state of Florida pays to provide contact tracing.

It comes after a woman says she was paid for weeks as a contact tracer, but never got one assignment.

Contact tracing is tracking down everyone a person positive with a virus has come in contact with.

State Rep. Rene Plasencia sent a letter to Florida’s Surgeon General.

His staff also contacted the president of Favorite Healthcare Staffing with specific questions about the state’s contact tracing program.

“As a function of the legislature, one of the things that we have the oversight to do, is to a certain extent audit some of our programs that go through state agencies,” Plasencia said.

Plasencia already had concerns about the state’s contact tracing program, but after learning about Adrienne Barker from a News 6 investigation, he says he has even more concerns about the millions of dollars the state of Florida is paying for contact tracing.

A News 6 report prompts a state lawmaker to call for an investigation into the state’s contact tracing program.

“Because of the report that you’re doing, we’re able now to bring that information to our staff at Healthcare Appropriations for the Florida House,” Plasencia said. “And we can start looking into how that money is being used.”

The state of Florida is paying Favorite Healthcare Staffing $23 million dollars for COVID-19 health care staffing, which includes contact tracers, according to state records and the Florida Department of Health

Barker said she was hired by Favorite Healthcare Staffing to do contact tracing.

“There is complete lack of oversight and a complete lack of accountability,” Barker said.

She said she was put up in hotels for 22 days and paid more than $1,600--but was never given one assignment.

“To be in a hotel getting paid without working goes against every single thing. It goes against the grain of who I am,” Barker said.

The Florida Department of Health has given few details about the state's contact tracing program.

Plasencia’s letter to the state surgeon general specifically asks if the state can provide data that shows the number of positive COVID-19 cases per day, and shows of those cases, how many people contact tracers actually connect with.

He posed the same question to the president of Favorite Healthcare Staffing.

“In Miami-Dade County, contact tracing has been effectively non-existent.”

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said after weeks of asking, the Department of Health shared contact tracing data for a 14-day period.

Gelber wrote a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis pointing out that out of thousands of cases in Miami-Dade County, the DOH is successfully contact tracing an average of 18% of those infected per day and sometimes as low as 7% over the 14-day period, according to the letter.

“Ninety-three percent were never reached and most of whom were never even tried to be contacted,” Gelber said. “It’s really a disaster.”

Yet Barker said she sat in a hotel room with no assignments.

News 6 called Favorite Healthcare Staffing numerous times and sent many emails over the past week asking for a response, but never got one.

This is an ongoing story that News 6 will continue to follow.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.