ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Gov. Ron DeSantis made a pledge Monday that by the end of the month the COVID-19 vaccine will be offered to every resident and staff member at the state’s nearly 700 nursing homes and more than 3,000 assisted living facilities.
As of an update from Florida’s Division of Emergency Management on Jan. 22, 96 percent of nursing homes self-reported having vaccinated residents and staff compared to only 44 percent of the state’s assisted living facilities.
“We had 14 residents total come down with COVID,” said Theresa Putnam, the owner and administrator of the Patrick Manor assisted living facility in St. Petersburg.
In the weeks that followed the first case in late April, Putnam said five residents sadly passed away.
“It was something like no other I’ve been through and I’ve been doing this 30 years,” she said.
Putnam spoke with 8 On Your Side Monday feeling a sense of relief a week after all 48 of her facility’s residents got the first dose of the vaccine.
“It was hard, frustrating and aggravating,” she said of the process to get shots in arms after registering with the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.
After confusion over who would administer the shots – she was led to believe it would be staff from a CVS – Putnam said a state contractor finally came to the assisted living facility one week ago.
“100 percent of my residents had the vaccine and it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders,” Putnam said.
The Executive Director of Families for Better Care Brian Lee told 8 On Your Side prioritizing vaccines for vulnerable long-term care residents in Florida was the right decision, but he is critical of other policies enacted by DeSantis.
“The failure to not have testing at the door,” he said, “to make it optional for the facilities was a huge mistake.”
Lee said the decision to lift visitor restrictions has resulted in an increase of infections at these facilities during the winter virus surge.
“That’s the story to me that’s not being told right now and for the first time Florida has eclipsed 9,000 deaths in these long term care facilities,” Lee said.
According to data from the Florida Department of Health, 74,072 residents and staff of long-term care facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus. The death toll in these facilities is at 9,097.
Putnam said she listened to advice from her son who is a registered nurse and her facility’s doctor to not restart indoor family visits.
“They just want to hug, they want to kiss, they want to hold each other and say this is alright, we’re still here,” she said, “and then I think about the families that can’t say that at all and that’s hard.”
Residents and staff members at Patrick Manor are scheduled to receive their second vaccine dose on Monday, Feb. 8, Putnam said.
She added she is proud there has not be a new positive test at the facility since early July.