Florida coronavirus: State moving to release money in ‘pot of gold’ for nursing homes

8 On Your Side

TAMPA (WFLA) – It was a fund set aside to help improve the lives of nursing home patients, $31 million and no public plan to use it during the coronavirus crisis.

Now, Florida is moving to release some of the dollars in the Civil Money Penalty fund.

As COVID-19 swept through Tampa Bay area nursing homes, 8 On Your Side uncovered more than 31 million dollars that could help facilities save lives now.

The money, collected from fines and controlled by Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, wasn’t being utilized for the crisis response.

In an email to 8 On Your Side Monday, AHCA stated in part, “we have been exploring options to support and equip health care workers and facilities on the frontlines of COVID-19 response by utilizing civil money penalty dollars.”

Now, there’s new information on their website.

Nursing homes can apply to get three thousand dollars for tablets, webcams and other devices.

The agencies goal is to help seniors connect with family, friends and doctors face-to-face.

“This is absolutely a positive step in the right direction,” said Brian Lee, the executive director of Families for Better Care.

Lee’s non-profit advocates for nursing home residents in Florida and beyond.

Lee wants the state to provide continuous, on-site testing for all residents and staff members at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. He believes that nursing home ‘pot of gold’ could help reunite families for real.

“Almost 29 million dollars would still be left in the fund even after all of the nursing homes could purchase those laptops, or iPads,” said Lee. “Plenty of money still in the fund to go out and purchase the rapid testing machines for all of the nursing homes many times over.”

“It’s hurtful, it’s gut-wrenching at times, I have cried my eyes out,” said David Smith.

Smith’s 86 year-old mom Gisela is in an assisted living facility in Tampa. Like many other families, he hasn’t seen her in weeks.

Smith fears she’s confused, lonely and possibly in danger.

“Do you know if staff members have been tested at your mother’s facility?” asked investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi.

“I asked her personal nurse last night and she told me she has not been tested,” said Smith. “I just feel it in my bones there has to be workers there that are carrying this virus.”

Smith called 8 On Your Side because he’s concerned. He wants his mom, and everyone around her, to be tested.

A spokeswoman for the facility tells 8 On Your Side, they don’t have any positive COVID-19 cases.

However, they’re also not testing all team members and residents at this time.

“If there were tests on site, families could go and visit their loved ones and actually be tested and make sure that they’re safe and clear and they can go see their loved ones,” said Lee.

8 On Your Side has reached out to AHCA to see if they’re planning on using part of the funds to increase testing at nursing homes and ALF’s across Florida.

We will continue to follow this story.

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