COVID-19 vaccine: Hospice workers in Florida not prioritized | #hospice | #elderly | #seniors
Roughly 20,000 Florida hospice and in-home health care providers are excluded from the state’s coronavirus vaccine priority list.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Along with seniors, frontline health care workers in Florida have been prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine.
But the state’s approximately 20,000 hospice and in-home health care workers are not included on that list.
Deborah Imbach with Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care in Pinellas County says the exclusion doesn’t just put the workers at risk but the patients, too.
A hospice worker was determined to be the likely source of a COVID-19 outbreak at a Pinellas County assisted living facility in April 2020 that was linked to dozens of deaths.
“So, it’s in everybody’s best interest that all frontline workers, including hospice nurses, be vaccinated as are hospital workers and facility workers,” Imbach said.
But because they don’t necessarily show up to the same location every day, like a hospital or skilled nursing facility, hospice workers are not included in the current policy prioritizing vaccines for health care workers, according to Imbach.
“We are frontline workers – we go into homes, we go into nursing homes, we go into assisted living facilities, we go into hospitals,” Imbach said. “We take care of the sickest of sick.”
The Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association recently sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking that he include hospice workers in front-line distribution.
“If we don’t protect the care provider first, they will not be available to treat Florida’s ill and vulnerable residents,” the letter reads.
In the meantime, some hospice administrators, like Imbach, have had to get creative by reaching out to the partner care facilities they often work with to see if staffers could join in on their vaccine clinics.
Seasons’ partner care facility, Heron House, gladly answered the call.
“We have hospice workers in and out of my building every day,” said Heron House executive director Amanda Patterson.
After vaccinating her own full-time staff, she was able to get many of Imbach’s staff vaccinated, too.
“For me, as an executive director, it is my number one goal to keep COVID out of my building,” Patterson said. “If I have hospice workers coming in and out – or really anybody who comes in and out of the building – it’s scary because you don’t ever know.”
The first round of doses was offered at the end of January. Staff will be headed back for their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Feb. 11.
Imbach says she knows how lucky they are and hopes others across the state are soon afforded the same opportunity without having to find loopholes.
“I can tell you with my first shot I was just thrilled,” she said. “It was a welcome relief that at least I was on the right track and there was hope.”
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