Empty wheel chair Nursing homes with substandard practices have created fertile ground for the virus to spread.
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Deaths from coronavirus in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have grown at a faster rate than deaths in the general population.

As a grim reminder that COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, is especially dangerous to seniors and their caretakers, as well as people with underlying health conditions, in recent weeks the number of deaths from coronavirus in nursing homes and assisted living facilities (ALFs) in Florida has grown at a faster rate than deaths in the general population.

New figures released Sunday by the Florida Department of Health (FDH) show 2,451 deaths of Florida residents from COVID-19 across the state. Of that total number,1,230 involve residents or staff members of long-term care facilities.

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According to these figures, nursing homes and long-term care facilities now account for more than 50 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Florida. That is roughly seven in 10 fatalities.

In fact, though the cumulative number of deaths due to COVID-19 doubled this month across the Sunshine State, coronavirus deaths at nursing homes and assisted living facilities have tripled. 

According to the figures reported by the FDH, 34.6 percent of the overall reported deaths of Florida residents involve people 85 or older, 63.8 percent involve people 75 or older, and 85 percent involve people 65 or older.

The figures from the FDH also show that new outbreaks of the virus are being reported at homes that hadn’t previously reported any fatalities, while deaths continued to take place at those facilities that had reported fatalities.  

Fertile Grounds for the Virus

One of these is the Fair Havens Nursing Center in Miami Springs, a facility that has reported more coronavirus fatalities than any other elder-care facility in the entire state. Earlier in May health department administrators suspended all new admissions after its substandard practices were found to have created “fertile ground for the virus to spread.”

According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, at one point Fair Havens transferred residents known to have been exposed to the coronavirus into bedrooms with roommates who, at the time, did not have the illness.

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Sadly, Fair Havens Nursing Center is not the only home or assisted living facility with this problem. With 24 resident fatalities and one death among staff due to COVID-19, Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation and nursing services in Pinellas County is the second-deadliest long-term care facility in the state.

And this past week The Tarpon Point Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Sarasota reported the most additional deaths, with six fatalities. This brings the total number of deaths at the facility to 19.

Raising Red Flags

Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties lead the state in overall COVID-19 cases. These counties — the hot zone for the pandemic — also have the most deaths linked to long-term care facilities, with 48 percent of the deaths taking place in nursing homes and ALFs.

This not only has family members of residents concerned, but also the seniors themselves, who often have no other place to go. 

“This should raise red flags about our need to know more about what is going on in these nursing homes that are producing these highest-in-the-nation percentages of fatalities, and our need to be really transparent about our efforts to respond to that and reduce the number of deaths, reduce the number of infections and keep nursing homes safe,” Larry Polivka, the Executive Director of the Florida State University-based Claude Pepper Center, told the Miami Herald.