ORLANDO, Fla. – After nearly three weeks of vaccinating residents and staff at Florida long-term care facilities, CVS and Walgreens will no longer be part of those inoculations, according to an update from the state Agency for Health Care Administration.
There are more than 321,000 residents and staff at those facilities across Florida, according to the AHCA. In late December, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies were selected by the federal government to help vaccinate these vulnerable populations. However, beginning Jan. 23 vaccinations at LTCs were taken over by a state-run program.
According to an update on Jan. 19 shared with facilities in the state, the Florida Division of Emergency Management contracted with CDR Health to vaccinate assisted living facilities that were not scheduled for their initial vaccine clinic with CVS or Walgreens on or before Jan. 23. CDR Health will now take over all vaccination appointments at facilities across the state, according to the AHCA update.
According to AHCA memo sent on Jan. 7, CDR Health was brought in to help the pharmacies with vaccination efforts prior to taking over all appointments.
On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said CDR Health was contracted because “time is of the essence” to vaccinate all 4,000 facilities.
Omnicare, a CVS company, said in a statement it is working with the state to transition to this new vaccination effort.
Anyone who already had their first vaccine from CVS Health prior to Jan. 23 will continue with CVS Health, according to Omnicare. If an appointment was scheduled after Jan. 23 CDR Health will be contacting facilities to re-schedule those appointments.
Some facilities in Florida were caught off-guard by the change in contractors.
Patty Longamore’s mother is at the Golden Pond long-term care center in Winter Garden. She was scheduled to get her first shot from CVS on Jan. 23 but Longamore learned the appointment had been cancelled.
“What they told is they just found out that CVS wasn’t coming that the governor pulled the allotment for CVS and they didn’t have any vaccines to give out,” she said.
Lindsey Starnes, vice president of clinical services for ALG, the property manager for Golden Pond, said they were notified CDR Health was taking over on Jan. 12 and “that’s when the uncertainty and chaos started.”
Starnes said the communication has been lacking and trying to prepare facilities has been hard with little notice.
“We had one yesterday, the team showed up at the building on a Sunday at 10 a.m. and our community was only given 20 minutes to prepare. In long-term care that’s the same as a minute,” Starnes said.
A spokesperson for CDR said company records indicate they were in contact with the Golden Pond community via email and phone from January 17- 22 “in compliance with the 24-72 hours notification directive.”
ALG operates facilities in other states where CVS is still inoculating nursing homes.
“We are in 6 other states working with CVS and have none of these issues where the state has flipped the contract and revoked the process going forward,” Starnes said.
Longamore is unsure when her mother will get vaccinated. She thinks the Florida governor should not have opened up vaccines to more groups before all the assisted-living facilities were taken care of.
“They didn’t prioritize it, they misled us on how they prioritizing the shots , no one should have gotten them until every facility in the state was taken care of, then you can start opening it up and giving shots,” Longamore said.
DeSantis opened up vaccines to people 65 and older in early January. Florida is home to more than 4.5 million people in that age group who do not reside in a long-term care facility.
DeSantis challenged the Department of Health to have all staff and residents at assisted-living centers vaccinated with the first dose in four weeks. On Monday, the governor said the state was close.
“We’ve done over 2,000 assisted living facilities that have at least one vaccinated resident,” DeSantis said.
Starnes, of ALG, said communication needs to improve on multiple levels to vaccinate more people.
“We need to have support from the state on a local level and state level on what CDR’s expectations are, what they were communicated as to what needs to happen by the end of the month,” Starnes said.
The struggle remains for the facilities, like Golden Pond, to keep families informed when they feel left in the dark.
“We work very hard to keep our families trust, they are trusting us with their loved ones and you are unable to communicate something as important as a vaccination,” Starnes said. ”When you are unable to do that it damages the credibility of the community and there is nothing to do to change that.”
Since beginning vaccinations in Florida CDR has vaccinated more than 27,000 people and expects to be completed with the facilities to which they were assigned by end of week, according to a spokesperson.