Last Saturday 91-year-old John Derrick, Sr. was admitted to the ER at Health First's Viera Hospital related to his chronic pneumonia. He was due to be discharged three days later, but for over a week now he's been unable to return to his assisted living facility. The hold up: he couldn't secure a negative COVID-19 test result.
"Trying to get ahold of anyone is just like a black hole," his 61-year-old son, John Derrick, Jr. told FLORIDA TODAY over the weekend.
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Derrick Jr. said that his father's assisted living facility was requiring anyone with COVID-19 related symptoms, which his father definitely had, to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to come back from hospital care. But the hospital declined to provide a test.
As a result, his father has been caught in the lurch and for a week has been stuck in a rehabilitation center across the street from Health First Viera Hospital. There Derrick Jr. says, while the stay is comfortable, his father is separated from his mother and there is an increasing number of patients who may be caught in similar scenarios, putting everyone at risk of infection.
"it's a high-risk environment," said Derrick, Jr.
"I haven’t seen him in all these days," he said, adding that his concern is that if the governor puts assisted living facilities on total lockdown, with no re-admittance whatsoever, his father's separation may be indefinite.
For his 87-year-old mother it's taken a toll. "She’s holding up better but I can tell she’s becoming increasingly depressed," he said.
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As of Monday, it appears Derrick Sr.'sproblem may soon be resolved. Health First adopted new discharge policies that involve providing a "COVID-19 screening."
With two sign-offs by doctors - but no test - the assisted living facility decided it would be able to re-admit Derrick Sr., his son told FLORIDA TODAY
The policy changes were communicated to staff in an internal email Friday evening, after Health First was contacted by a reporter on Friday and over the weekend by State Representative Randy Fine, who FLORIDA TODAY spoke to about the situation.
"He will be going home to Sonata tomorrow (Tuesday). It's taken some unexpected turns," Derrick Jr. said on Monday.
Because of the lack of a test, the facility will still quarantine Derrick Sr. in the same room as his wife for 14-days.
"My only cringe at the back of my mind is if the governor decides to lock down today or tomorrow then we're in a whole new phase," Derrick Jr said. "It'd better than being indefinitely separated."
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Health First declined to explain to FLORIDA TODAY why such hold-ups were happening or how commonplace they were or whether a lack in testing supply was the reason.
But for Derrick Jr. there's no doubt that besides "bad timing" this is related to a local shortage, reflected state and nationwide.
"This is because they have to be so tight-fisted on the number of tests," he said.
"Even before this current situation, patients are not discharged unless we have confirmed their ability to care for themselves or have someone who can care for them," Health First said in a statement. "You should reach out to the Florida Department of Health if you have questions on their guidelines."
The Florida Department of Health at a state and county level did not respond to inquiries made Friday.
FLORIDA TODAY reached out to other hospital systems in the county about whether they faced similar hurdles returning high-risk patients to assisted living facilities.
Parrish Medical Group in its responses acknowledged delays but said it has been using COVID-19 screening forms for all transfers.
"We all are following CDC and FDOH guidance for our respective centers. New requirements, rules, restrictions are being asked of everyone at this time to help stop spread of this virus. It’s about keeping those most medically at risk safe. We are working together and collaborating to navigate the new requirements and yes some delays are expected and necessary sometimes to keep people safe," they wrote.
Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon is a watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Call him at 321-355-8144 or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @alemzs
This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.