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Lee Health: Millions spent on employee incentive pay, meals program and more

By Staff | May 20, 2020

With Monday’s announcement of voluntary layoffs and “summer sabbatical” programs for Lee Health employees designed to reduce costs, system officials on Wednesday touted all they have done to benefit health workers throughout the pandemic.

President and CEO of Lee Health Dr. Larry Antonucci began his conference call thanking the more than 14,000 Lee Health employees who have cared for patients during a pandemic — who “bravely” come face-to-face with coronavirus each day on the job.

Antonucci then outlined the proactive steps Lee Health has taken to “recognize employees for their sacrifices.”

Antonucci said Lee Health provided more than $4 million in incentive pay to health care professionals who worked in “higher exposure-risk” areas of the hospital. He said Lee Health also provided a voluntary extension of the federal paid leave program, “to ensure that employees who were exposed to the coronavirus outside of work, were caring for a loved one with COVID-19, or had childcare obligations continued to receive their paychecks while away from work.”

“These leave programs also cost the health system millions of dollars, but were essential to retaining the best workforce in Southwest Florida during a global pandemic,” Antonucci said.

Lee Health also, in partnership with more than 200 local donors, took on the costs of feeding their hospital staff for two months to “ensure that healthcare workers not only were nourished for their long hours on the front lines, but also to limit their exposure in the community or having to worry about what was for lunch or dinner that evening.”

Antonucci said covering those meals costs over $1 million for the hospital.

But that’s not all.

“To remain stewards of the resources entrusted to us, Lee Health took extraordinary measures to adapt to these new conditions, including pausing new hires, enacting pay cuts for leaders, freezing or reducing consulting agreements, eliminating incoming and outbound travel, reducing supply costs, significantly reducing capital expenditures, and closing certain locations,” Antonucci said.

Officials said the voluntary exit program announced Monday is designed to “limit further financial challenges created by the coronavirus while compensating employees who wish to separate from the organization.”

“The response so far in this program has been significant, and more applications are coming in daily,” Antonucci said. “This program was in addition to over a dozen other ideas that we asked our team to initiate to scale our staffing to volumes in this new reality. We are constantly impressed with the way our team has rallied for the benefit of Lee Health.”

In answer to a question sent via email, Lee Health spokesperson, Pat Dolce, told The Breeze that when it comes to employees being eligible for unemployment benefits if they choose to take part in the voluntary buyout or summer sabbatical program, that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will determine eligibility.

Antonucci added Lee Health will continue to do everything in its power to keep employees aboard as much as possible while ensuring things can run safely and smoothly at facilities.

“When difficult decisions need to be made, we continually turn to our Exceptional Lee Promise, which states: ‘We promise to listen and communicate effectively, embrace empathy, act with compassion, and continually improve care creating a safe, comforting and healing environment for our patients, their families and each other,'” Antonucci said.

* Long weekend to be monitored

As Memorial Day weekend is upon us, the “unofficial start to summer” will come with the continual opening of the state by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“With Florida’s full Phase 1 reopening now in effect, Phase 2 is on the horizon and with the upcoming holiday weekend we will continue watching the numbers closely to see if there is an uptick in cases and hospitalizations,” Antonucci said. “But, with all the steps to return to normal, please do not become complacent in your efforts to keep yourself and others safe.”

Antonucci reported that over the past six weeks, the number of patients hospitalized at Lee Health facilities with coronavirus has steadied between 70-80.

“(This) shows that we all successfully worked together to avid exponential growth in our region,” he said.

* Cape Mobile Site to close next week; low demand cited

Cape Coral’s mobile collection site at Cape Coral Sports Complex will close next week, with the final operating day being Tuesday, May 26.

“There has been a decline in volumes at the site as other testing locations have opened throughout the area, and we have the capacity to meet the full demand at our Fort Myers location,” Antonucci said.

The Fort Myers location at Lee Convenient Care’s Page Field office will continue to operate 7 days a week. Both sites will be closed Monday.

* Healthy Life Centers to re-open

The Lee Health Healthy Life Centers at Cape Coral Hospital and Babcock Ranch have no re-opened to the public.

“As residents return to these locations for exercise and recreation, we are following all CDC guidelines to keep our staff and visitors safe,” Antonucci said. “We are requiring social distancing of all gym members, and visitors are encouraged to wear a mask. Certain parts of the facilities, such as basketball courts and steam rooms, will remain closed to promote distancing.”

For more information about the Healthy Life Centers reopening, please see Lee Health’s website and Facebook pages.

* By the Numbers

As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, there are 47,471 cases of the new coronavirus confirmed in Florida, an increase of 527 since FDOH’s last update Tuesday morning.

More than 77,900 test results were reported to the Department of Health on Tuesday, May 19, the most in a single day since testing began by tens of thousands. Of those reported tests, .64 percent tested positive.

The death toll increased by 44 from 11 a.m. Tuesday to 11 a.m. Wednesday, reported among Broward, Charlotte, Dade, Hillsborough, Manatee, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Sarasota, Seminole, Sumter, Volusia and Walton counties.

A total of 772,669 individuals have been tested: 723,877 have tested negative, 1,321 tests were inconclusive and 1,357 tests are pending results. Of those testing positive, 8,681 have been hospitalized at some point during their illness. There have been 2,096 deaths.

While Florida’s testing has increased over the past week, the percentage of those testing positive for COVID-19 overall is 6 percent.

In Lee County, 1,542 individuals have tested positive as of 11 a.m. Wednesday; 638 in Fort Myers, 282 in Cape Coral, 316 in Lehigh Acres, 115 in Bonita Springs, 57 in Estero, 44 in North Fort Myers, 11 in Sanibel, 12 on Fort Myers Beach, six in Alva, three on Matlacha, one on Captiva, one in Bokeelia and one in Boca Grande. Five cases were not identified by community.

Positive COVID-19 cases in the county have ranged from infants to a 100 year old man. Lee County saw its first two cases on March 7, when a man and a woman, each 77, tested positive. They had traveled to the Dominican Republic.

There have been 89 deaths in Lee County, all but two between the ages 61 to 96. The exceptions were a 39-year-old man who died March 25 and a 52-year-old man who died April 30.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Lee Health had 80 COVID-19 patients isolated in system hospitals, the same number as their last update Tuesday afternoon. A total of 406 patients who had tested positive have been discharged, including 10 on Tuesday.

The system has submitted a total of 14,945 specimens for testing, with only one result currently pending.

Lee Health mobile collection sites on Tuesday collected 179 specimens and had a total of 1,919 telemedicine visits.

There are currently 184 Lee Health employees quarantined. Twenty-one employees are currently positive for COVID-19 after being exposed at work.

Current bed capacity is at 72.3 percent, with 7 percent of those being COVID-19 patients.

As of Wednesday, 70 percent of ventilators and 13 percent of ICU rooms are available for use across Lee Health facilities.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral disease. For most individuals, symptoms are mild. For a minority, the disease becomes a type of viral pneumonia with severe complications. Especially at risk are those who are older, those with underlying health conditions and the immune-compromised.

Officials strongly urges all members of the public who can, remain at home so as to limit exposure and so limit the number of cases so as to not overwhelm the health care system with at-risk and severe cases.

For more detail on Florida resident cases, visit the live DOH Dashboard.

To find the most up-to-date information and guidance on COVID-19, visit the Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control, visit the CDC COVID-19 website. For more information about current travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State, visit the travel advisory website.

For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-866-779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours per day. Inquiries may also be emailed to COVID-19@flhealth.gov.