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Free COVID-19 tests needed to protect Florida’s senior living facilities | Editorial
Public health is the issue - not who pays.
Catherine Mercogliano, 65, on left, gets her temperature checked by executive director Scott Elsass as she enters the Grand Villa Senior Living Community in St. Petersburg, an assisted living facility, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Catherine Mercogliano, 65, on left, gets her temperature checked by executive director Scott Elsass as she enters the Grand Villa Senior Living Community in St. Petersburg, an assisted living facility, on Sept. 10, 2020. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 19, 2020

Gov. Ron DeSantis made a national splash of his two-pronged strategy to manage the coronavirus. He reopened Florida’s economy with the caveat that the state would faithfully protect its most vulnerable senior citizens. But now Florida has stopped paying for coronavirus tests for staff at assisted living facilities. That’s a pound-foolish approach that doesn’t jibe with the governor’s promises, and he needs to live up to his commitment.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Kirby Wilson reported Friday, the decision to end the free testing has led to confusion and finger-pointing in the state’s long-term care industry. With state funding gone, some smaller facilities are unsure how they will afford the additional cost of testing staff. As Kathryn Moore, the administrator of Bay Oaks Historic Retirement Residence in Miami put it, these facilities were on the front-lines for months in protecting the especially-vulnerable elderly population. But Moore says that providers now feel “completely forgotten” as smaller facilities like hers are being left to absorb the costs.

The hit became apparent last week after Curative, which collects and processes coronavirus tests for thousands of facilities across the state, and which had agreed to cover the costs for a month, notified providers that it would no longer pay the expense. That triggered a predictable dispute over whether private insurers or the state or federal governments should backstop these costs as a last resort.

Who pays — government or private industry — really isn’t the issue. The focus should be on ensuring that all providers have access to free tests. That’s especially true with smaller players in the industry and facilities that may need logistical assistance. Given the pandemic’s effect on the country, this ideally should be funded by the federal government. If Washington can redirect FEMA money to the border, it can find money to pay for tests. If Florida needs to front these resources until Congress passes another COVID-relief bill, so be it.

The governor’s office told the Times on Friday it was reviewing the situation. With these facilities now open to visitors, this is hardly the time to pull back on testing, or to make money the issue instead of public health. The governor needs to step up.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news