TAMPA, Fla. - A new report from AARP on the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday found Florida leads the country for the most deaths from the virus among nursing home residents and staff.
AARP’s COVID-19 Nursing Homes dashboard compiled data from the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services through August, which tracks the highs and lows of cases, deaths and vaccines in nursing homes. The delta surge elevated cases among residents and staff in Florida.
"It's a pretty frightening situation right now for nursing home residents because Florida is leading now in deaths and for residents," said Brian Lee, the director of Families for Better Care, a national nursing home residents advocacy group. "I think a lot of that goes back to low vaccine rates for residents. Comparatively, when you look at the rest of the country and also for staff, that's a big part of it."
The data found 237 nursing home residents died in the state, and that’s 21% of the total 1,125 deaths across the country. Lee said Florida does not currently provide data from assisted living facilities and he would like to see those numbers.
While 73% of nursing home residents in Florida are fully vaccinated so far, Lee said that still leaves a chunk unprotected.
"You have such a high percentage of the residents who are still unvaccinated. That just puts them in danger, and I think about just under half of the staff are vaccinated. So I think that the majority of staff are not vaccinated," said Lee.
The federal data shows 48% of nursing home workers now have the shot. Lee said vaccines make a difference in those settings.
"This has been a real concern throughout the pandemic because it's the staff moving about from facility to facility, people who work on multiple shifts at multiple facilities just to try to make ends meet," said Lee. "They could be asymptomatic and unknowing to them, they're spreading the virus to the residents, again, the most vulnerable and also to their colleagues."
Healthcare advocates said they want people to live and reverse Florida’s trend in nursing homes.
"We know that the vaccines work. We've seen them work for people. It has saved lives, and we don't want to see anybody else get sick and die," Lee said.
AARP’s report found Florida’s nursing home staff deaths are also the highest in the nation at 13 people, representing 17% of 76 total staff deaths nationally in that same time period. Nursing home advocates said families may want to check with providers on booster shots if their loved one got the vaccine back in December or January.