Vague transfer guidelines lead to confusion for family with infected loved one at nursing home

Published: May. 19, 2020 at 11:44 AM CDT
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Families across the country are dealing with the emotional stress of having a loved one in a nursing home during the coronavirus pandemic. But as Florida leaders continue to take action to prevent further spread of the virus, some families are dealing with a different problem.

A Gadsden County family shared their story about a loved one who lives at Blountstown Nursing and Rehabilitation in Calhoun County.

Kay Peddie said her elderly mother-in-law, Elvie, called Saturday night, panicked and confused.

She had been told she was getting ready to be transferred to a Pensacola hospital the next morning. Two weeks earlier, Elvie had tested positive for COVID-19, but she hadn't experienced any severe symptoms. Her family said she'd been recovering in an isolated ward in the facility- her home for the last four years.

The family was frustrated about being in the dark about the potential transfer.

"We need to know, she's our family," Peddie said.

They called a relative who is an attorney. He arranged an emergency meeting and cancelled the planned transfer at the last second.

So why did this happen?

WCTV placed multiple calls with management at Blountstown Health and Rehab this week, but did not receive a response. But this report puts some of the pieces together.

It may start with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spent time this week talking about the importance of preventing the spread of coronavirus in long-term care facilities.

"You may be seeing transfers, but you know what, getting COVID-19 positive out of the nursing homes will save lives," he said Wednesday.

Earlier this month, The Agency for Healthcare Administration released new guidelines, asking facilities to transfer residents if they can't meet CDC isolating requirements. The list includes having a dedicated unit for COVID-19 infected residents with separate staff, and monitoring asymptomatic residents every eight hours.

"If a facility isn't capable of doing that, then we need to transfer those residents that can , such as hospitals," Gov. DeSantis said in that news conference.

Peddie believes Bloutnstown Health and Rehab has been dealing with staffing issues, which could explain the need to transfer. Yet, these new guidelines don't appear to be emergency rules or orders, so is it happening across the board?

Kristen Knapp is with the Florida Healthcare Association. She said the FHCA has reported a handful of similar incidents in recent days. While she agrees with the policy, she hopes families aren't left in the dark.

"When these new emergency rules, directives come out, simply giving us clarification that goes with it can really help our facilities with some decision making," she said, referring to situations with asymptomatic cases.

Peddie said she hopes her story reminds others to keep asking questions.

"It wont hurt you to have that knowledge and it may help to make sure your loved one is taken care of," she said.

She understands family members of healthy residents may wish for infected patients to leave, but believes the isolated ward is sufficient to stop the spread.

The mandate for the transfer likely came from the Calhoun County Department of Health, which supplied WCTV a broad statement about how they handle COVID-19 cases in nursing homes. But it did not confirm or deny the specifics in this case.

This story will be updated when or if management with Blountstown Nursing and Rehab provide a statement.

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