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Majority Of Employees In Florida’s Assisted Living Facilities Decline COVID-19 Vaccinations

Many Florida seniors living in assisted living facilities have received their first vaccine for COVID-19. This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the goal was to offer a shot to all residents and staff members at Florida’s nearly 4,000 long-term care facilities. While many residents agree to get vaccinated, an overwhelming number of employees at those facilities are not getting the shots.

The association representing many of Florida's assisted living facilities (ALFs) says only 35% of ALF employees agreed to be vaccinated. The reasons many employees are declining to get the vaccine vary. They range from misinformation to skepticism about specific vaccines.

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The Florida Assisted Living Association represents more than 650 assisted living facilities. Its CEO Veronica Catoe spoke about the challenges of vaccinating so many residents in a short period on the Florida Roundup with host Melissa Ross.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

ROSS: Let's begin with the good news. The state says it has administered first doses of vaccine at virtually all of Florida's nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Great to hear that. At the same time, there have been reports of chaos and misinformation in some spots after the state signed the contract with CDR Maguire to roll this out. What can you attribute those problems to?

CATOE: I think one thing you just mentioned was virtually all have been administered. Because I can say as of today, there are still some assisted living facilities in the state that have not received their first clinic. And that has to do with the misinformation and communication breakdowns.

When you enact something at warp speed and then bring in a third-party provider, which was needed, but with little time to implement effectively — and what I mean by that is they were brought in about the 7th of January, and we're given an initiative to start giving vaccines on Monday, the 11th — and this is CDR Maguire.

That is also the same date that Walgreens and CVS were to begin their first clinics. When you're trying to gather information from two entities that were already in the process of scheduling appointments and then transferring them to another entity, you're bound to lose people in the mix of it.

Also, what contributed a lot to I think the mishaps in the rollout is they called people on a Friday and expected them to complete documents by Monday. And have staff come in without being able to give them adequate notice to come in, which has affected the vaccination rate and employees — let alone the hesitancy that was already there for the trust in the vaccine.

Now, many employees weren't able to get the vaccine because the providers didn't have the ability to, say, be here Tuesday at 12 because they were sometimes knocking on the door on Tuesday at the same time they were getting the communication.

The challenge to get high vaccination rates among staff at the state's long term care facilities — certainly that's a population you'd want to see vaccinated, but that has sometimes been difficult. Why?

Well, with the federal rollout, the long-term care program that was federally backed with Walgreens and CVS did have a state element in how it was rolled out. So nursing homes were rolled out in phase 1A, and assisted living facilities were pushed to 1B. In many states around the country, assisted living facilities receive their clinics at the same time as the nursing homes. And there was a reasoning at the state level for doing it this way. However, that created a delay.

And at the same time, the governor was saying that long-term care facilities would be first. But in the midst of that, right before December, before Christmas, then he announced that 65 and older would start getting it in the general population, and assisted living facilities hadn't even had an appointment to have them come in and do the vaccine. And that's when it became a critical time to speak up.

How frustrated are you by all of this? I can hear some frustration in your voice, frankly.

I don't mean it that way because the frustration, I think, is kind of tempered out a little bit. But at that point in time, it was very frustrating. I think I will continue to be frustrating. While the partnerships, I have to say, with CDR Maguire, CVS and Walgreens have been exceptional, once they were brought in and we had the ability to speak with them. I can email them at any time and say, this community is telling me that they don't know who's supposed to do the vaccination. They have been very responsive, let me say that.

But at the same time, the expectations that they were given, thinking that you can vaccinate over 3,100 communities in less than three weeks time, is extremely stressful and strenuous on them as well.

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