They care for people in the last stages of life, but despite contact with the most vulnerable, advocates say most of the state’s 20,000 hospice workers are still being left behind when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.

What You Need To Know

  • Hospice leader sends letter to governor with concerns about vaccine access for workers

  • Paul Ledford calls it a logistical problem, cites number of reasons

  • BELOW: Read letter that was sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis

  • More Coronavirus headlines

We first reported on the issue last week. Since then, Paul Ledford, President of the Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association, sent a letter to the governor, asking to be made a priority.  

“I also sent it to the 160 members of the Florida legislature and all I got were auto replies. I haven’t heard a word from any state official about the letter,” said Ledford.  “It’s very disappointing. It’s frustrating.  We’re an advocacy agency and have regular contact with state agencies but in this case, we just haven’t heard back.”

Ledford calls it a logistical problem, as many hospice workers travel directly to patients from home and many hospice patients are also homebound. He says access to the vaccine often depends on those workers being included in plans where they serve or by county health departments, as they distribute allotments. 

Right now, Ledford said it’s inconsistent, with less than 10 percent of the hospice workforce vaccinated so far.  In the letter, Ledford asked the state for explicit identification in the governor’s emergency order, to ensure the status of frontline healthcare worker.

“Failing to render explicit leaves it up to interpretation by every local county health department,” Ledford said.

Locally, the Pinellas County Health Department is among the few making access easier, allocating 900 doses to Empath Health for Suncoast Hospice. 

“Because hospice workers have extensive contact with vulnerable residents and their families, the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County is working to get vaccines to those employees,” said spokesman Tom Iovino. “This is in line with the Governor’s executive order, which lists seniors age 65 plus, residents and employees of skilled nursing facilities and front line healthcare providers as those in priority groups.”

Ledford said this interpretation is correct but must be clarified so it's accepted by all departments across the state.

Spectrum News reached out multiple times to the governor’s office, the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Division of Emergency Management to find out more about this issue and if there are plans to resolve it.  We are still waiting to hear back.​