PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — As more and more residents of long-term care facilities are transferred to hospitals, Dr. Ulyee Choe, Director of the Department of Health in Pinellas County, warns there may be more to come.
New guidelines put in place by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration require long-term care facilities to follow CDC guidance, and isolate residents who test positive for COVID-19 or are suspected of having it.
If they can’t isolate those people, they have to transfer them.
In Thursday’s Pinellas County commission meeting, AHCA representative Molly McKinstry stated that AHCA is working to develop locations around the state devoted to caring for COVID-19 patients. She did not say where these locations would be set up, or when they will begin operating.
“The level of infection control that is necessary to care for COVID-19 clients is certainly beyond what they’re typically experiencing,” said McKinstry.
That level of infection control has been amped up by AHCA’s set of guidelines requiring residents with COVID-19 to be cared for in a dedicated unit, separate from non-COVID-19 residents.
The Florida Health Care Association, while supportive of these stricter guidelines, wants to make sure long-term care facilities are given enough time to make arrangements before EMS actually transfers patients.
“A couple of hours isn’t enough time to prepare the residents, communicate with the families,” said Kristen Knapp, Director of Communications for the Florida Health Care Association.
Anthony Vincenti found himself in that very situation on Thursday, trying to track down where one of his loved ones ended up.
“I just show up, it’s time for her to go home. It didn’t work out that way. She’s now in another hospital with the coronavirus,” said Vincenti, whose ex-wife has been living at Gulf Shore Care Center in Pinellas Park.
The Pinellas County Long-Term Care Task Force continues to work with each facility in order to train staff, and assist in isolation efforts.
“We’ve been in all of them. We contact them multiple times, some of them more often if they have positive patients in their facility, we’ll contact them on a regular, daily basis,” said Chief Brett Schlatterer, with the Pinellas Park Fire Department.
Dr. Choe, the director of the Department of Health in Pinellas County, said in Thursday’s meeting that the Florida Department of Health has partnered with a private lab to process test results at long-term care facilities.
Here's a statement from Louise Merrick, an administrator, at Gulf Shore:
"We currently have no identified COVID positive residents in-house. We thank our peers who have heroically stepped up in unprecedented times to meet the challenges of the COVID pandemic. We will continue to be guided by the CDC, AHCA and the Florida Department of Health guidelines and directives"
So far, we have not heard whether they plan to test all residents and staff in Pinellas County.