JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The COVID-19 pandemic now affects 1,627 people at long-term care facilities in 45 counties, state officials said. After weeks of refusing to release the names of the virus-affected facilities, Gov. Ron DeSantis instructed the state’s surgeon general to release the names Saturday.
“I have now directed [Surgeon General Scott Rivkees] to determine that it is necessary for public health to release the names of the facilities where a resident or staff member is tested positive for COVID-19,” he said.
The list does not indicate how many cases are at each facility, or whether they involve patients or staff.
The move comes after weeks of growing pressure by family members and senior advocacy groups said relatives have a right to know if their loved one is living in an affected facility. The state barred visits to long term care facilities early on in the pandemic, and most stories about infections at nursing or senior living homes have been anecdotal.
The state initially claimed releasing the information would violate patient privacy. Attorney Tom Edwards said the public had a right to know this information all along.
"There’s a very good argument people ought to know what’s going on at these long term facilities," Edwards said.
"Facilities are not allowed to give out certain types of private information. Indicating whether or not COVID is present in the facility does not give out HIPAA information about an individual patient," Edwards said.
On the First Coast, there are more than 20 long term care facilities with confirmed cases, including eight in Duval.
"A lot of the facilities are locking down to try to prevent COVID from coming there, or, if they have COVID in the facility, try to keep it from expanding," Edwards said.
Edwards said if your loved one is in one of these facilities, you do have a right to know what's going on there. As long as you're on the facility's list of family members who are allowed to get medical information, the facility should give it to you, he said.
"I would be communicating with the facility to make sure they’re doing the things they need to do and that means they should have patients in isolation that are testing positive. They have to have staff in isolation," Edwards said.
"They have to have people who are using the proper personal protective gear. All patients should be socially distanced," Edwards said.
According to our news partners at the Florida Times Union, 15 of deaths from COVID-19 in Duval, Clay and Baker counties are linked to long term care facilities.
“They [long term care facilities staff] are required to properly care for them by state law, and if they aren’t able to properly care for them, they’re required to find a higher level of care that they can place them in," Edwards said.
"If they can’t place them in there [a higher level of care facility], they’re required to get them the proper care in the facility," he said.
As far as whether or not to take your relative out of a long term care facility, Edwards said there are very few good options when it comes to this.
"Unless someone has the ability to bring caregivers into a home who are sophisticated and can care for someone with COVID, and there aren’t many people out there who have the ability or resources to do that, the residents are going to be largely stuck," he said.
"The reality is this: residents who are in nursing homes went there because they needed a higher level of care than the families could give them, and the people that are there are supposed to be the professionals who are properly caring for them, and they are required to properly care for them by state law," Edwards said.
Long term care industry groups have asked DeSantis to impose protections against negligence suits. No word on that yet from the governor. Earlier this week, though, DeSantis said the National Guard will help with testing at nursing homes throughout the state.
A full list of the affected facilities can be found here.