Florida House leader goes from calling hospitals 'robber barons' to praising them

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click to enlarge House Speaker José Oliva - Photo via News Service of Florida
Photo via News Service of Florida
House Speaker José Oliva

For the last two years, hospitals have been targeted by House Speaker José Oliva as among the prime culprits for the reasons health care is expensive and hard to access. In the last few days, hospitals are now on the frontlines as the state’s source of hope amid the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.

That’s why Democrats saw a disconnect when Gov. Ron DeSantis gave Oliva a baseball bat that included the inscription “slayer of the health care industrial complex.” The governor mentioned the gift at a press conference with the Miami Lakes Republican and Senate President Bill Galvano following the conclusion of the 2020 legislative session on Thursday.

Rolling the clock back to January, Oliva lambasted hospitals and others as modern-day “robber barons.” In a time of crisis, Democrats interpreted the governor’s gesture as an ill-timed quip in a state that declined to expand Medicaid.

Florida Democrats asked the governor to apologize. And state Sens. Janet Cruz and Lori Berman sent a letter to DeSantis on Friday asking that he expand Medicaid as allowable under the federal health care law, and suspend any terminations for Medicaid and the Florida KidCare program, which can require family contributions. 

It is likely, however, the slights by both sides may be forgotten quickly, given Florida’s current situation. As of Friday, there are 520 cases of COVID-19 in Florida. The death toll, which includes one non-resident, now stands at 11. Hospitals have treated 118 of those patients,  or about 23 percent of the total cases, according to state documents. And while travel-related cases account for the majority of the COVID-19 cases, there is no known source of contagion in nearly 39 percent of the cases, the documents show.

And that means community spread, even potentially in Florida’s long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew on Wednesday sent a new advisory to long-term care facilities saying that anyone who enters the buildings must wear a face mask. Moreover, the edict requires gloves to be worn when care is provided to residents. The directive also stresses that people should “continue to perform hand hygiene prior to donning gloves, after removing gloves, and anytime there is contact with the resident environment.” Masks, gloves and gowns are all consider personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Mayhew sent the advisory out after the state announced that a 77-year-old man at a Broward County assisted living facility who died tested positive for the virus and that, as of Wednesday, there were 19 long term care facilities that have confirmed or suspected cases of COVID 19. Mayhew said she would provide a list of counties where the facilities were located but had not distributed the list by Friday afternoon.

The state’s long-term care facilities, meanwhile, don’t have the PPEs needed to meet the directive.

AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew the next day issued a follow-up advisory to nursing homes making clear that the agency will not “penalize facilities that are unable to follow this directive due to supply shortages."

Also, please note that this edition of The Weekly Checkup doesn't include "Rules" or "Calendar" sections. The traditional format will return soon. Take care, be safe and self-isolate.

—National coverage note: Want to see how governors across the nation are responding to the pandemic? C-Span is making the press conferences available here

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, all bars and nightclubs in Florida were closed on March 17 for 30 days. As of March 18, Central Florida restaurants are still open for takeout and delivery, and grocery stores are open during limited hours. Follow CDC guidelines and Orange County advisories on staying safe.
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