Federal health inspectors have arrived in Florida to evaluate how long-term care facilities are responding to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services surveyors “have been on site in a handful of counties where they are in full PPE,” Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew said Tuesday, referring to personal protective equipment.
“This is entirely a federal survey team,” Mayhew continued. “They are there to evaluate, very quickly, infection prevention and control. They also are intended to be a supportive resource.”
WJCT News partner News4Jax has reported three of four Jacksonville COVID-19 deaths have been linked to the Camellia at Deerwood assisted-living facility in a city report.
The Agency for Health Care Administration did not immediately reply to requests from The News Service of Florida for additional information, including the counties the federal surveyors were visiting or how many facilities were involved.
The visits came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida long-term care facilities increased to 72 on Tuesday. Those cases are spread across 12 counties, though state officials have generally refused to identify the nursing homes or assisted living facilities where they have occurred, citing privacy concerns.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma announced March 23 that the agency would spend three weeks conducting targeted infection-control inspections in areas the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed likely to have potential outbreaks.
Teams were formed after the publication of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that found COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, “has the potential to result in high attack rates among residents, staff members and visitors” after being introduced into facilities.
On a phone call Tuesday afternoon with long-term care providers, Mayhew said the federal surveyors are in the state as a result of the infection control initiative.
Florida officials won’t say whether they have tested other residents of long-term care facilities where COVID-19 cases have been found. Also, they won’t directly answer how many long-term care residents have died as a result of the disease.
COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to seniors and people with underlying health conditions. An estimated 20.5 percent of Florida’s population is 65 or older. The state has 691 licensed nursing homes that provide 84,258 beds and another 3,000-plus licensed ALFs that offer 106,103 beds.
Mayhew said her agency has been working closely with the long-term care industry, even making phone calls to risk managers to provide guidance on what she said were constantly changing guidelines.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday credited the Agency for Health Care Administration for its efforts on infection prevention, noting that the agency had made 907 onsite visits and more than 2,000 calls to long-term facilities.
“We are all here to get through this together and be supportive of one another,” Mayhew said.