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Florida Nursing Homes Prepare for COVID-19 Vaccines

Of more than 9,000 nursing homes analyzed,  61% were cited for one or more infection-control deficiencies.

Strike teams from the state and national drugstore chains will be targeting nursing home patients with the first COVID-19 vaccine very soon. How are Florida facilities prepared? The AARP says nursing home settings "almost guarantee" the spread of a virus.

Strike teams from the Florida Department of Health and the National Guard will be targeting nursing homes with a COVID-19 vaccine, once officially approved by the Food and Drug Administration. They will have about 21,000 doses.

Those will be in addition to about 60,000 doses with Walgreens and CVS destined for long-term care facilities in Florida. That was the allotment announced Thursday by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

WLRN's South Florida Roundup spoke with the leaders of three South Florida senior facilities who say they are getting ready.

They say the vaccine can't come soon enough. Well over 1,000 residents at South Florida nursing homes have died from the virus. The AARP said "anyone who knows elder care could have seen this coming."

Plaza Health Network CEO Elaine Bloom said her organization received a call from the state to "get ready for some of our patients and staff" to receive vaccinations. Plaza Health Network has five facilities in Miami-Dade County.

John Knox Village COO Bill Pickhardt in Pompano Beach said his community has registered with CVS, one of the two national pharmacies to handle vaccine distribution.

"They provided preparation packages of specific layouts of how they want areas set up to do the administration. They provided things that we will need to have when they come on site," Pickhardt said.

He expects to hear by Tuesday, Dec. 15 of, a specific date vaccinations will begin. And he anticipates vaccinations at skilled nursing and assisted living facilities to start by Dec. 21.

Healthcare workers at Artis Senior Living's two South Florida facilities will receive the vaccine before residents according to Robyn McCracken, the center's vice president of health and wellness.

"We are being told that the health care providers will actually receive the vaccine first and then the second wave will be admitted to the residents," she said.

Bloom is urging Plaza Health Network workers to get the doses. She noted that patients at her facility do not go out into public and return: "They do not attract the virus because they don't go out."

Artis Senior Living is preparing to deliver vaccines outside of its facilities in Boca Raton and Davie.

"There'll be social distancing," McCracken said. "Everyone is masked up and everyone is spaced apart."

Artis expects the second round of vaccinations to take place inside its memory care facilities.

Despite early bans on visitations to nursing homes and the use of isolation areas, the virus has been deadly for residents. More than 7,600 have died statewide according to the latest data from the Department of Health. That's more than a third of all COVID-19 deaths in Florida since the beginning of the pandemic.

"In elder care facilities, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, group homes — we could tell that it was going to sweep through those facilities like someone running through a dry wheat field with a flame thrower," said David Bruns with AARP in Florida.

The seniors advocacy group points to several factors for how deadly the virus has been in long-term care facilities. Among the reasons: how the homes are designed. Rooms are shared, patients can be concentrated in small spaces. Residents eat and socialize together. Staff members move between rooms providing care.

"It has been called a cruise ship on dry land," said Bruns. "It is a setting that almost guarantees that if you have a widespread contagion in a community, it's going to get into these facilities."
Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.
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