DeSantis' administration is being tight-lipped about whether it is testing workers at state-owned facilities for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis announced this week the state would test nursing-home employees for COVID-19, his administration is being tight-lipped about whether it is testing workers at state-owned facilities for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities won’t comment about whether staff members at three state-owned facilities in North Florida have tested positive for COVID-19, a respiratory disease that can be deadly to people with underlying medical conditions, including people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents state employees, alleges the Agency for Persons with Disabilities isn’t screening workers at the Developmental Disabilities Defendant Program before allowing them to enter the facility, as required in an order issued last month by state Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz. The program houses people who have been found incompetent by judges to stand trial because of disabilities.
Union spokesman Kelly Benjamin said that as of Wednesday, staff and visitors were entering the facility without being screened for COVID-19.
Agency for Persons with Disabilities spokeswoman Melanie Etters didn’t comment on the union’s allegations.
In a prepared statement to The News Service of Florida, agency Director Barbara Palmer said her agency requires Developmental Disabilities Defendant Program employees and staff at two other facilities — Sunland Center in Marianna and Tacachale Center in Gainesville — to wear protective masks.
Palmer said the agency also is asking "required" vendors, regulatory officials and first responders about their travel histories before allowing them into the Developmental Disabilities Defendant Program facility. The statement didn’t mention taking people’s temperatures, which, while not required in Moskowitz’s order, is included in industry-recommended guidelines posted on a state website.
"The agency is very fortunate that as of today, no center resident has been diagnosed with COVID-19," Palmer said in the statement, adding "we want to take every possible step to prevent the spread of this virus and to protect our residents."
Some people with developmental disabilities reside in private facilities that provide around-the-clock care, such as the Tallahassee Developmental Center. That facility has been responsible for 77 COVID-19 cases in Leon County.
Etters did not comment on the outbreak at the Leon County center, noting that the facility’s residents are not clients of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
As of Wednesday morning, Florida had 22,081 cases of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, and 453 residents had died. That total included 1,222 COVID-19 cases involving residents or staff members of long-term care facilities, though it does not break down the cases by type of facility.
DeSantis announced Monday that the state would establish 10 four-member strike teams that will help test nursing-home residents and staff members for the coronavirus. DeSantis said the teams will be in areas hardest hit with infections, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
It is the largest effort to date by the state to proactively test residents and workers at long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and group homes.
DeSantis made the announcement weeks after a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that COVID-19, "has the potential to result in high attack rates among residents, staff members and visitors" after being introduced into facilities.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities administers programs that include providing Medicaid-funded services to people who live at Sunland Center and Tacachale Center. It also operates the Developmental Disabilities Defendant Program, which is located on the same campus as Florida State Hospital, a psychiatric facility, in Chattahoochee.
The News Service of Florida reported that three employees of the psychiatric hospital, which is administered by the Department of Children and Families, have tested positive for COVID 19. The Developmental Disabilities Defendant Program shares some common space on the campus with the psychiatric hospital, including space for health care and medical services.
This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.