TAMPA — One by one, healthcare workers and union members laid banquets of flowers on the steps of the Sam M. Gibbons courthouse in memory of the over 3,000 lives lost to the coronavirus pandemic across the state.
Each flower, which represented a life lost to COVID-19, was placed in front of the courthouse — the sole location in the state where both U.S. senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have offices in Tampa.
The group of elder care workers, led by the state’s largest healthcare union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, gathered both to mourn and to call for more aid for workers at elder care facilities.
Protesters are demanding more personal protective gear for elderly care facility employees, increased funding from the state that is specifically dedicated to the bedside care of patients, and for healthcare workers to have a seat at the table in government discussions that affect the industry.
According to data by the Florida’s Department of Health, the number of deaths associated with long-term care facilities is more than 1,600. A testing program, launched in May by the state, made it clear that thorough data collection and regular testing for the state’s 3,800 nursing homes, assisted living facilities and rehabilitation centers would be necessary to address the dramatic effects the coronavirus outbreak has had on elderly resident, facility workers, and their families.
Earlier this week, state officials issued an emergency order requiring that all nursing home and assisted living facility workers be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks in an attempt to reduce its spread. However, some group representing the nursing homes doubt the policy’s effectiveness.
Nearly one in five Florida nursing homes reported that they do not have a one-week supply of protective gowns or the N95 masks recommended for care of patients with COVID-19, according to a survey through May 31 released by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. A handful of nursing homes say they do not have any gowns or N95 masks at all.
But the offices for Rubio and Scott said they didn’t deserve any blame. They pointed to their support of the stimulus package passed by the U.S. Congress in late March, which provides funding for both healthcare workers and small businesses who have been affected by COVID-19.
“If anyone believes (Rick Scott’s) been absent, they haven’t been paying attention,” said spokeswoman Sarah Schwirian, in an email. “Congress has spent almost $3 trillion so far to address this crisis, and Senator Scott joined his colleagues to support health care workers and small businesses through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.”
In a video posted on Twitter this week, Rubio announced he will be working on a second round of assistance to businesses and communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Although, elderly care facilities were not specifically named and the type of assistance was not specified.
Coyuca Jones, the Political Coordinator for the healthcare union, says the group wants Rubio and Scott to support the HEROES Act, which would offer some financial relief for health care workers on the front line.
Some members of the group held signs calling for justice and wore t-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter.”
For the protesters, the lives lost to the pandemic not only represent a need for greater attention to long-term care facilities, but also a need for attention to a broader issue of racial discrimination and injustice.
The vigil began with a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 to remember the life of George Floyd, who recently died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck for the same amount of time.
”If you are a Floridian, if you work or live in the state, you vote in the state, you ought to be cared for by the state, and, that’s what I see not happening,” said Karen Scott, a Tampa Bay resident who has been working in healthcare for more than half her life.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.
SO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE? Read these 10 tips first
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.