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MIAMI HERALD: “Alarmed by COVID-19 outbreaks, Miami-Dade considers sick pay for nursing home workers”

MIAMI HERALD: “Alarmed by COVID-19 outbreaks, Miami-Dade considers sick pay for nursing home workers”

Concerned about hospitals receiving an uptick in coronavirus cases from nursing homes, Miami-Dade County’s mayor may want the county to pay the costs of sick leave for employees from the elder-care facilities who test positive for COVID-19.

At a Tuesday morning staff meeting, Mayor Carlos Gimenez raised the possibility of emergency two-week benefits to the portion of the elder-care workforce that doesn’t receive sick pay and carries the coronavirus, participants in the meeting said.

While there’s hope federal or state dollars could cover the sick pay, Gimenez didn’t rule out local taxpayers footing the bill to encourage testing of workers who could cause outbreaks at places with people most at risk of serious health issues from COVID-19, participants said.

SICK LEAVE LINKED TO COVID-19 TESTING

“What we have to figure out now is how to make sure these people are getting tested,” said Jennifer Moon, the deputy mayor tasked with helping study the sick-leave issue at Miami-Dade nursing homes. “We need to figure out how to make sure that’s happening.”

Moon said the effort to study options just started, and that it’s not known if Miami-Dade could be a source of funding for emergency sick pay for a private industry. She said a main concern came from contract employees at nursing homes who work for outside firms, and are sometimes assigned to multiple facilities in a week. Without paid sick leave, submitting to a coronavirus test presents the possibility of an economic disaster if they’re forced to stay home without compensation.

“You’re making an impossible choice, especially for someone without savings,” said Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who was one of several commissioners listening in to Gimenez’s call with top aides. “We have to find a way to mitigate the risk for those people. Should county taxpayers pick up the tab? … Why wouldn’t nursing homes provide paid sick leave?”

Kristen Knapp, spokeswoman for the trade group representing nursing homes in Florida, said the industry typically provides paid sick leave.

“I have not heard of any of our facilities not providing paid sick leave to employees, rather, facilities have increased their wages, paying bonuses and offering heroes pay to caregivers during this challenging time,” Knapp, communications director for the Florida Healthcare Association, wrote in an email.

“I would be interested to hear where the Mayor received this information or what facilities specifically he thinks are not offering paid sick leave because I do not believe that is a systemic issue among our member facilities.”

HOSPITALS GET MORE COVID-19 CASES FROM NURSING HOMES

The discussion on sick-leave help at Miami-Dade nursing homes comes as more residents from the facilities are being transferred to local hospitals with COVID-19 complications. Those cases have helped reverse a downward trend on COVID-19 hospitalizations in Miami-Dade, a key metric tied to Gimenez’s planned lifting of some business restrictions on May 18.

The 613 COVID-19 patients reported in the county’s daily hospitalization report on Tuesday represented a 7 percent increase over 72 hours.

During the mayor’s Tuesday briefing, administration officials said admissions from nursing homes were a significant reason for the short-term increase, participants said. On Sunday, 56 residents from the Fair Havens nursing home in Miami Springs were taken by ambulance to eight local hospitals, according to a report from the county’s Emergency Operations Center. The state froze admissions there.

Miami-Dade has reported 505 deaths of people with coronavirus, and 189 of them are linked to residents and employees of long-term healthcare facilities like nursing homes, according to Florida’s Health Department. That would mean about 37 percent of the county’s COVID-19 deaths come from those facilities.

Last week, Gimenez opposed a proposal by Levine Cava to require paid sick leave for private firms hired by Miami-Dade to provide county services, including security at airports and transit stations. The bill failed for lack of support in a County Commission committee.

”We had an opportunity to set an example,” Levine Cava said Tuesday.

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A Florida Department of Health worker holds a box with swab tests from residents of a Miami long-term care facility. DAVID SANTIAGO DSANTIAGO@MIAMIHERALD.COM

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