Elderly on wheelchair Many families in Florida were worried about the state of their loved ones in the state's elder care facilities.
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After pressure from advocates and family members, the state releases the list of facilities afflicted by COVID-19, but a crucial piece of information is still missing. 

For several weeks during the rising coronavirus pandemic in Florida, the names of elder care facilities affected by COVID-19 remained unknown, even as family members worried if their loved ones were safe in their nursing home or assisted living facility.

But after unrelenting pressure from advocates for the elderly and families of residents, state officials revealed that 303 elder care facilities in 45 Florida counties have staff or residents who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the respiratory illness that can have especially serious consequences for those 65 or over.

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Yet despite indications that one in five cases of coronavirus in Florida was found in the state’s 3,800 assisted living facilities (ALFs) or nursing homes, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees refused to divulge the names of those that reported cases of COVID-19.  Instead, Rivkees sided with the Florida Health Care Association, which represents 300 nursing homes, saying that to divulge the list of names would violate the residents’ privacy.

This augmented family members’ worries that their loved ones living in the facilities could be exposed to the deadly virus, and increased the possibility of widespread contagion. The names were finally revealed Saturday by the Florida Department of Health after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the release of the list.

“I have now directed [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,’’ said DeSantis, who since the beginning of the coronavirus  crisis has been accused of lack of transparency and withholding information.The Republican incumbent had also been threatened with a lawsuit for violating the state public records law. The suit was drafted by the Miami Herald and supported by other news media, such as the Sun Sentinel, the Tampa Bay Times, The New York Times, and Scripps’ Florida TV stations.

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After the release of the list, the state reported 1,627 cases in residents or staff at long-term care facilities, including 54 in Miami-Dade, 39 in Broward, 36 in Palm Beach and none in Monroe counties. But the cases are not limited to the “hot spots” for the disease –such as Miami-Dade and Broward counties; they are found in 45 of Florida’s 67 counties. In total, approximately 8 percent of the 3,800 nursing homes and assisted living facilities have active positive cases.

But even after the list of facilities was revealed, the information did not answer all the questions or assuage all worries concerning the elderly residents and members of the staff. That is because the list from the Florida Department of Health does not indicate the number of staff or residents who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

It also does not list how many deaths each facility has had due to COVID-19.  How high are the numbers of confirmed positive cases? How many coronavirus related fatalities occurred at each nursing home or ALF? In other words: how widespread is the problem?

Carol LoCicero, of Thomas & LoCicero, the firm representing the news coalition that threatened the lawsuit against DeSantis, told The Miami Herald that their only goal is to keep the public informed. “We hope this first step indicates the state will be releasing more detailed information soon,” she said.

If you suspect a loved one is suffering from neglect at a nursing home facility, call Adult Protective Services at 1-800-962-2873. Or report it online at https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us/