Florida coronavirus: State sitting on $31 million ‘pot of gold’ intended for nursing homes

Investigations

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tampa Bay area nursing homes have been hit hard by the pandemic. 8 On Your Side has uncovered millions of dollars that could help those facilities battle coronavirus. We’re digging into some of the surprising ways the state is using the money instead.

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


WHAT TO KNOW:

  • Florida is reporting 85,926 cases and 3,061 deaths
  • Florida in Phase Two of reopening
  • Cases have spiked in past week, Gov. DeSantis says due to increased testing

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.”

On Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis unveiled a new mobile lab just for long-term care facilities. It can process 500 tests a day.

“We really believe this will be a game-changer,” said Governor DeSantis.

“This is going to be around-the-clock, we’re going to be processing 500 tests a day just on the mobile testing site.”

The goal of the lab on wheels is to identify clusters and prevent the spread of this virus.

“We’re going to be able to go to long-term care facilities, get results back almost immediately,” said Gov. DeSantis.

But nursing home advocates say one RV is not going to cut it.

Brian Lee, the executive director of Families for Better Care, is calling for a lasting solution: Rapid test machines on-site at each home permanently.

“If these testing machines were deployed, we could start to identify which residents are infected, which staff are infected, and it could be happening on an ongoing basis,” said Lee.

It sounds expensive, but 8 On Your Side found a way to pay for it.

It’s a nursing home pot of gold: There is more than $31 million in the state’s Civil Money Penalty fund.

So how is Florida using the money?

Before the COVID-19 crisis began, one company got more than $143,000 to create instructional DVDs.

Florida Atlantic University received $119,000 to make guides that reduce hospitalizations.

And nearly a half a million dollars went to the University of Louisville, so the school could develop a website with best practices for nursing homes.

There’s no question these purchases may help people in Florida nursing homes one day. But what about the need for testing machines and other supplies nursing homes could use right now?

As the state explores how to use the money in this fund, people like Smith worry about the family members it could be helping.

“These are our mothers, our fathers our sisters that are in these facilities they’re not expendable,” he said.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration is in charge of these funds.

8 On Your Side has asked AHCA to provide a breakdown of where the money has gone this year.

We will continue to follow this story.

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