Florida Eases Restrictions on Long-Term Nursing Home Care

Professional help for elderly in a wheelchair at nursing homes. Photo and Caption: Barabasa/Shutterstock.com

Florida Governor Ron Desantis’ administration has announced it is eliminating state-supported every-other-week testing of workers in long-term care facilities and that it is shuttering 23 COVID-19 nursing facilities who have residents that contracted the virus. These facilities house residents who must be isolated to help contain the pandemic.  

The decision to eliminate state-supported testing comes after DeSantis said September 1 he was lifting a five-month ban on visitors at long-term care facilities. Under an executive order, facilities can open visitation to members of the general public who agree to social distance and wear masks, so long as the facilities have not had any new COVID-19 cases for a 14-day period.

The Agency for Health Care Administration sent an email Friday to nursing homes and assisted living facilities announcing that it had canceled a contract with the company Curative, which provides self-administered tests to long-term care facilities. The agency also scrapped rules that required staff testing.

The Agency for Health Care Administration did not comment on how assisted living facilities will discern whether new cases have occurred during a 14-day period. The change in testing policy was sharply criticized by Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida state director.

Among the 23 isolation homes, 18 have fewer than 100 beds, agency Secretary Mary Mayhew said those facilities will stop accepting COVID-19 positive residents on Friday and will discharge all residents they accepted under terms of isolation agreements with the state by October 2.

Gail Matillo, president and CEO of the Florida Senior Living Association, said she was not aware of the contract cancellation until Mayhew’s remarks during Thursday’s phone call with the long-term care industry. 

Curative could provide tests for free to uninsured long-term care staff under a pot of money that the federal government made available. But, again, that would hinge on the state’s willingness to deem the testing medically necessary, he said, adding that the designation could be issued in a public health order or by the state insurance commissioner.

The expiration of the emergency orders does not affect coronavirus testing for elder-care center residents. Nursing homes will be required to continue testing under federal guidelines.

DeSantis issued an order allowing nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to reopen to visitors earlier this month. The facility must not have a new case of coronavirus within the last 14 days. Facilities have the choice to reopen or not under the guidelines.

Unlike the state’s biweekly testing mandate, federal testing guidelines for nursing homes depend on the coronavirus positivity rate in the region. If the county has a positivity rate of less than 5 percent, testing for staff can be just once a month. If the rate is between 5 and 10 percent, staff testing is once a week. If the positivity rate is above 10 percent, testing is ordered twice a week, according to CMS.

As of Tuesday, about 3,000 nursing home and assisted-living facility residents had tested positive for the coronavirus, which showed a decline from the month prior. About 3,400 health care workers in those facilities have tested positive for the virus, according to the Florida Department of Health.