'Strike team' deployed to Pensacola nursing home with most COVID-19 cases in Florida
An ambulance strike team is assessing the situation at the Pensacola nursing home that leads the state for COVID-19 positives among residents.
According to data from the Florida Department of Health, Southern Oaks Care Center on West Gregory Street has reported 94 positives among residents, more than double the facility with the second highest number. In a press release Tuesday evening, the facility also confirmed four COVID-related deaths among residents.
"I think they're as surprised as anyone," Florida Sen. Doug Broxson said of Southern Oaks' leadership, "but, obviously, when you have that kind of epidemic within one institution, it is very concerning. I'm sure it's concerning for the provider also."
Broxson said he'd spent much of the day talking with state leadership, and that all pertinent agencies were aware of and responding to the situation. The Florida Department of Health announced Tuesday that the Florida National Guard is participating in ambulance strike teams helping long-term care facilities in Escambia County with testing efforts.
Southern Oaks confirmed the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration have representatives on campus providing support.
"(Gov. Ron DeSantis' office has) already dispatched the National Guard to bring in their people to do some additional testing to see if there's any systematic failures," Broxson said. "He's considering that part of a strike force that he's sending in as due diligence."
Broxson said at this time, he couldn't speculate whether there would be any need to relocate patients out of the facility as a safeguard. He said public health personnel will assess the situation and make those types of decisions on the ground.
"It's not an independent facility anymore, it's one that the state is involved in and making sure that people are healthy," Broxson said. "If there is a single problem, they're gonna resolve it. So I doubt the facility would make a decision (on relocating residents) — though they would probably have to bear the costs — but my guess is the state, if they see that there's not proper isolation, that they will mandate whatever changes are necessary to keep the residents safe."
Southern Oaks issued a press release Tuesday that discussed some of the specifics of the situation at the facility.
"At this time, we have 94 patients who have tested positive, but none are showing any respiratory symptoms or fever. Many who tested positive will be retested later this week, and we expect some of those results to start coming back negative. Of those who have tested positive in April, only six required transfer to the hospital. Of those six, one remains in the hospital and two have returned to Southern Oaks."
The other three residents passed away in the hospital, the nursing home reported. A fourth resident passed away at the facility.
"While it’s unconfirmed whether other chronic health issues besides COVID-19 contributed, we still mourn for the loss of our residents, because every one of them is part of our family," the release said. "Our thoughts are with their loved ones, along with all the families of the residents under our care. We know this is a challenging time for them, and we have and will continue to stay in regular communication with residents and their families. We’re making multiple phone calls to families and will be sending weekly email updates as long as necessary."
Southern Oaks said it had all of its residents tested last week as a precautionary measure, which led to the discovery of the 94 positives.
The facility says it has taken every precaution recommended by federal regulators, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health to protect its residents and staff.
"We’ve restricted all non-essential visitors, we’ve asked nonessential employees to work from home and we screen anyone who enters the building, including taking their temperatures," the release said. "Our staff have been donning masks, gloves and gowns per guidelines, we have strong infection control protocols in place – including educating staff on how to identify signs of the virus and interact with residents to ensure everyone’s safety — and have the personal protective equipment needed to protect both our residents and staff."
Health department data indicates 15 Southern Oaks staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. The nursing home wrote its staff "are heroes in this crisis, risking themselves to serve those who are most in need." The facility said it remains committed to providing excellent care, and the safety of residents and staff is its top priority.
Broxson said arrangements are being made to allow residents of the facility to record personal video messages for their families "to give them an update on their health and the conditions, the things that they are experiencing, to add some perspective other than what the ownership is saying."
Still, the senator expressed at this point, all indications are the situation is well in hand.
"I know there's there's enough people there to deal the situation," Broxson said. "Tallahassee is aware of it. The Department of Health is monitoring it every day, they're requiring a report every day, which is posted (online) ... they're on top of a bad situation."
Kevin Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8527.