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Florida’s assisted living facilities to DeSantis: What about our vaccines?

Residents and staff were supposed to be included in the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccine plan.
Marlys Meckler, 81, on left, meets with her husband, Milton Meckler, 87, in the living room of the Grand Villa of St. Petersburg, 3600 34th St S, an assisted living facility that has opened its doors to visitors after not permitting visitors for the past six months, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Marlys was visiting Milton, who is a resident of the facility. The couple has been married for 61 years.
Marlys Meckler, 81, on left, meets with her husband, Milton Meckler, 87, in the living room of the Grand Villa of St. Petersburg, 3600 34th St S, an assisted living facility that has opened its doors to visitors after not permitting visitors for the past six months, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Marlys was visiting Milton, who is a resident of the facility. The couple has been married for 61 years. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Dec. 24, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis has prioritized nursing homes and front-line medical workers in the first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations.

And now, with vaccines becoming available to the general population, he’s ordered Floridians 65 and older to be the first to receive them.

But with the expanded availability, two other places that house elderly and vulnerable Floridians are asking, what about us?

On Wednesday, the association representing more than 650 assisted living facilities and adult family care homes sent a letter to DeSantis asking for information on when they will receive vaccines.

Related: Have coronavirus vaccine questions? We have answers, Florida.

“Our members are on the front lines of this global pandemic, providing a safe and secure environment for their assisted living community residents,” wrote Veronica Catoe, CEO of the Florida Assisted Living Association. “All our member facilities, their residents and families, are eagerly awaiting notification as to when they can expect to start receiving the COVID-19 vaccines.”

A spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond when asked about the association’s letter.

Unlike nursing homes, which provide 24-hour medical care for residents, assisted living facilities are less restrictive, supporting disabled and elderly residents with daily life but without 24-hour nursing care. Adult family care homes provide housing and support for those who want to live in a private home with up to five residents.

Assisted living facilities were supposed to be included in the first phase of Florida’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, according to a draft of the plan from October. After hospitals, staff and residents at long-term care facilities, including the more than 178,000 working and living in nursing homes and more than 155,000 working and living in assisted-living facilities, were next in line to receive vaccines under that plan.

Related: Why are coronavirus deaths doubling in Florida’s nursing homes?

DeSantis has not followed that plan and has not released a new one. Nursing homes and front-line medical workers have been the first to receive the vaccine, and DeSantis said this week that the state was ready to move to people 65 and older in the general population. That phase could begin as soon as Monday, he said, although details on where vaccines will be available and how people can sign up to receive them are scarce.

The governor hasn’t clarified where staff and residents in assisted living facilities and adult family care homes fit into his new vaccine plan.

Catoe wrote that CVS and Walgreens, which are distributing the vaccines, have not yet been given approval by the state to begin scheduling those facilities for vaccine distribution.

“We are looking to you for clarification of when they will receive approval to begin scheduling and administration,” she wrote to DeSantis.

Catoe said she had not received a response by Thursday morning.