TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As a coronavirus outbreak in Florida's nursing homes grows at a ferocious pace, some state lawmakers are demanding more accountability from the state's nursing home industry, including public disclosure of the names of the affected nursing homes and their residents.
Here are five questions asked and answered regarding the state of the epidemic, why we don't know all that we should, and what lawmakers say should be done:
1. How serious has the outbreak become?
As of Thursday, 1,332 nursing home residents and staff had tested positive for the virus, according to the Florida Department of Health. That represents a doubling of nursing home coronavirus cases in just one week's time.
The outbreak began making headlines late last week, when it was reported a facility in the North Florida town of Live Oak was hit with 51 cases.
2. Why don't we know where the bulk of the outbreaks are?
Currently, only tips from concerned nursing home staff members, residents and their families are illuminating for the public which facilities are being affected by the virus. A comprehensive list of facilities isn't being made available by the Department of Health due to public records exemptions passed by the Florida Legislature at the behest of the nursing home industry.
3. What are the lawmakers suggesting be done?
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Lighthouse Point) said the crisis has underscored the need for the legislature to eliminate the exemptions and other deregulatory measures passed over the last two decades.
"Floridians need to have this type of information available to them, and it's been hidden and it's been obfuscated," Farmer said. "And so, the governor is dealing with a system that I think we need to fix, legislatively, going forward to provide greater accountability."
4. Why were the exemptions passed in the first place?
Supporters say they are essential to protect the privacy of nursing home patients.
5. Nursing homes are asking for legal immunity during the coronavirus crisis. How do the lawmakers view that request?
The Florida Health Care Association, the trade group representing the state's nursing homes, is asking that Gov. Ron DeSantis grant facilities sovereign immunity for the extent of the crisis so they can operate "without fear of reprisal for providing care to their patients during this difficult time."
Farmer says granting such a request "would be unconstitutional."