More than 900 Florida healthcare workers urge Gov. Ron DeSantis: ‘Act now’

Their letter pleads for a statewide shelter-in-place order, among other directives.
A healthcare worker transports a handful of collected samples to a holding location to later be tested. Dozens of vehicles lined up at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Raymond James Stadium site on Wednesday, March 25, 2020  in Tampa.  Residents that wish to be tested had to be approved and registered online before arriving at the site.
A healthcare worker transports a handful of collected samples to a holding location to later be tested. Dozens of vehicles lined up at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Raymond James Stadium site on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 in Tampa. Residents that wish to be tested had to be approved and registered online before arriving at the site. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published March 27, 2020|Updated March 27, 2020

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More than 900 Florida healthcare workers have signed an open letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis in which they urge the governor to take stronger action to slow the spread of coronavirus on several fronts, including issuing an immediate statewide shelter-in-place order.

The letter, released Thursday, had 913 signatures as of 12:45 p.m. Friday.

“We are the healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida and we urge you to act dramatically to mitigate the spread of the disease, protect and support healthcare workers, and ensure that patients have access to all necessary medical and social services during this crisis," it begins. "Health systems around the world are being stretched dangerously thin and we are not far behind.”

Among its seven points, it pleads for a shelter-in-place order as “the only hope of limiting peak incidence and overall mortality rates, as can be seen empirically from other countries.”

A spokeswoman for DeSantis said Friday that she was not aware of the open letter until a Tampa Bay Times reporter told her about it. She did not respond to multiple follow-up emails asking for DeSantis’s response to the letter. Bryant Shuey, a resident physician based in Tampa who wrote and distributed the letter with two colleagues, said Friday afternoon the healthcare workers were “still looking forward to a response.”

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The letter also asks DeSantis to direct commercially produced personal protective equipment — masks, respirators, gowns, gloves — straight to healthcare workers and to ask manufacturers to create those supplies.

“We’ve seen that healthcare workers are susceptible to this,” Shuey said. “It’s critically important that healthcare workers be adequately protected while on the frontlines of this pandemic. We’ve seen across the country that there have already been discussions of (personal protective equipment) shortages, and we want to ensure that that does not happen here.”

The letter asks DeSantis to mandate that insurance providers waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 related medical procedures or treatment, as governors in New York and California have done, and to issue an executive order requiring insurance companies to cover telehealth services.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who are not getting tested, not getting treated, not getting care because they’re afraid of costs," said Mikaela Aradi, a resident physician in Tampa who co-wrote the letter with Shuey and another colleague, Caroline Bresnan. "That’s one more person who doesn’t know their status and goes around transmitting to other people. That’s one more person who can die at home.”

It asks that the state turn hotels, stadiums and other sites into isolation centers where patients without severe symptoms can shelter for 14 days to reduce spread to others, and that DeSantis order directives to halt evictions and provide emergency paid sick leave and housing funding.

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And it asks that DeSantis commute the sentences of inmates who are at high risk and have less than two years left on their sentences, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in jails and prisons.

“As our elected state leader, you must act now to halt transmission of COVID-19 to prevent overburdening our health system and save the most lives while protecting our state’s front-line,” the letter ends. “We applaud the state of Florida’s current efforts. But we must do more to stop the spread of COVID19.”

This isn’t the only group of healthcare professionals that has asked DeSantis to take dramatic action in the past few days. A petition, organized by Doctors for America, also calls for a statewide stay-at-home order and had more than 500 signatures as of Thursday.

Related: To combat coronavirus, Florida needs stay-at-home orders now | Column

On Wednesday, the acting executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest healthcare union in Florida, sent a letter to DeSantis urging a shelter-in-place order and asking for better access to personal protective equipment.

And on Friday morning, the CEO of the American Diabetes Association sent a letter to DeSantis asking him to eliminate cost-sharing for insulin and ensure that people with diabetes who lose their jobs have continuous access to health insurance, in an effort to keep people with diabetes out of hospitals and emergency rooms focused on treating coronavirus patients.

Shuey and Aradi said their letter spread quickly, accruing signatures just by being passed from person to person. Though their workplaces haven’t been overwhelmed, they know the crisis will get worse, and they felt compelled to do what they could to prevent a worst-case scenario, a feeling that tied in with the reasons they became doctors in the first place. (Both said their residencies involve multiple Tampa-area medical facilities but that the facilities had asked them not to specify where they work.)

“There’s a sense of anticipation, which can be anxiety provoking, but also a call to action,” Shuey said. "This is why we wanted to help people.”

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