COVID-19 cases are surging among Florida nursing home staff, according to the AARP Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard, released Thursday. Florida has 704 certified nursing homes, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — the fifth highest in the nation after Texas (1,211), California (1,186), Ohio (954), and Illinois (713). As of the week ending July 18, the study found 40.3% of nursing homes had new confirmed COVID cases among staff — the highest in the nation and almost three times the national average (13.7%).
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The study, which used data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), included dashboard metrics on staff and resident COVID cases, vaccination rates, deaths, PPE supply, and staffing shortages. The study also found that Florida has the second lowest percentage (45.1%) of fully vaccinated staff, above only Louisiana (44%). The national average, by comparison, is 60.4%.
Last week, Florida hospitals and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration discussed vaccine efficacy, especially against the Delta variant. When it comes to improving vaccine rates in nursing homes, AARP Florida state director Jeff Johnson says state leaders should focus on disparities between facilities across the state.
According to AARP Florida data, River Garden Hebrew Home for the Aged had 96.9% of residents and 77% of staff fully vaccinated as of July 25. However, Krystal Bay Nursing and Rehabilitation in North Miami had no fully vaccinated residents and only half of its staff.
Still, others such as Heartland Health Care Center in Boynton Beach and Life Care Center of Hillard had 100% fully vaccinated residents but only a third of staff fully vaccinated.
“We need to learn what the folks who get 90% of their staff vaccinated are doing and figure out how to get the others to come on board.”
Contributing factors to the high COVID cases include legislative changes, according to Johnson. CS/HB 72, which passed in the last legislative session, provides additional protections for health care providers against COVID-related lawsuit claims. HB 485, which DeSantis signed on June 24, made permanent a law allowing nursing homes to hire less experienced workers to supplement staffing shortages.
Both, Johnson said, worsened the quality of care within long-term care facilities.
“About a third of fatalities that occur of COVID happened in long term care facilities in Florida. We thought it would be an opportunity for the state to really rethink how we do long term care, not only in terms of that rebalancing, but also in terms of how we design facilities and design staffing models and making sure that we have really strong, if nothing else, infection control in these places.”