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Updated: Lee Health: Millions spent on incentive pay, meals, more

By Staff | May 21, 2020

With this week’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.

* CDC releases ‘Opening Up America Again’ benchmarks

As states begin reopening efforts, the Centers for Disease Control has released a 60-page summary of the “CDC’s initiatives, activities, and tools in support of the Whole-of-Government response to COVID-19.”

The document, “CDC Activities and Initiatives Supporting the COVID-19 Response and the President’s Plan for Opening America Up Again,” outlines a series of benchmarks as the country moves forward.

“The plan for reopening America outlines a three-phased approach for reducing community mitigation measures while protecting vulnerable populations,” its introduction states. “The phased approach can be implemented statewide or community-by-community at governors’ discretion. The guidelines propose the use of six ‘gating’ indicators to assess when to move through from one mitigation phase to another.”

Reopening times and methods should be based on local conditions, the CDC states.

Safety protocols should remain in effect, the plan states.

Interim guidance for helping establishments with these steps are provided.

“Widespread community mitigation combined with ongoing containment activities represents both an effective intervention for limiting the spread of COVID-19 and a serious threat to the economic well-being of the country and the world.”

Critical initiatives include expanding testing and advising testing practices.

Also key is a phased-in approach to reopening, the document states, citing a three-phased approach benchmarked to the use of six “gating indicators to assess when to move through from one mitigation phase to another.”

Child care programs, school and day camps, restaurants and bars and mass transit are among the businesses specifically addressed with a specified components for all businesses with employees who are deemed high risk — those over age 65 and those with underlying medical conditions including chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, hypertension, severe heart conditions, weakened immunity, severe obesity, diabetes, liver disease, and chronic kidney disease that requires dialysis.

* Long weekend to be monitored

As Memorial Day weekend is upon us, the “unofficial start to summer” will come with the phased reopening 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 now 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, see Lee Health’s website and Facebook pages.

* Lee County tests damaged in transit

The Florida Division of Emergency Management of Thursday announced that 1,702 tests administered through state sites thus far this month have been damaged while being transported.

Of those tests, 119 were identified as coming from the CenturyLink Sports Complex test site in Fort Myers

According to FDEM, those whose tests that were damaged will be notified and given priority testing.

“To make sure those who need retesting can do so quickly and efficiently, a priority lane has been set up today to give those affected a fast track. Once checked in at the gate and confirmed to be on the retesting list, patients will make their way through the expedited process. Their test kits will be marked “priority” and overnighted to the commercial lab,” read a release from FDEM Thursday.

* ‘SWFL Safer Together’ reiterates best practices

Lee Health and NCH Healthcare System have team up throughout the pandemic to build a regional effort against the spread of COVID-19, called “SWFL Stronger Together.”

On Friday, the two regional health care leaders announced the next phase of their collaboration campaign called “SWFL Safer Together,” reflective of the region’s transition to safely reopen after flattening the curve on the coronavirus pandemic. They are asking the Southwest Florida community to join them in taking continued safety precautions, returning to best, most effective health care practices, and continuing to provide support through donations.

The healthcare systems stressed continued practices of safe physical distancing by remaining at least 6-feet apart, wearing face masks out in public and washing hands multiple times throughout the day for at least 20 seconds each time as a best defense.

“Thanks to you and all your hard work, we’ve flattened the curve on the coronavirus pandemic and now we’re on to the next phase,” Antonucci said. “And because of all the precautions our systems have taken, we are in an excellent position to provide top-of-the-line patient care to the Southwest Florida community. Our hospitals and healthcare systems are fully operational and safely serving our community. We have plenty of personal protective equipment and we are prepared for emergencies, surgeries, physician visits, lab draws, X-rays and much more.”

For more information or to make an online donation to SWFL Safer Together, visit www.SWFLtogether.org.

* By the Numbers

As of 11 a.m. Thursday, there are 48,675 cases of the new coronavirus confirmed in Florida, an increase of 1,204 since FDOH’s last update Wednesday morning.

More than 53,400 test results were reported to the Department of Health on Wednesday, May 20, the second most in a single day since testing began. Of those reported tests, 2.4 percent tested positive.

The death toll increased by 48 from 11 a.m. Wednesday to 11 a.m. Thursday, reported among Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Dade, Duval, Escambia, Manatee, Okaloosa, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Volusia and Walton counties.

A total of 815,584 individuals have been tested: 765,254 have tested negative, 1,655 tests were inconclusive and 1,471 tests are pending results. Of those testing positive, 8,946 have been hospitalized at some point during their illness. There have been 2,144 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, 1,585 individuals have tested positive as of 11 a.m. Wednesday; 654 in Fort Myers, 285 in Cape Coral, 332 in Lehigh Acres, 119 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 101-year-old. 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 88 deaths in Lee County, revised from 89 by the health department Thursday. All but two deaths were patients between the ages 61 to 96. The exceptions were a 39-year-old man who died March 25 and a 52-year-old male who died April 30.

As of Thursday afternoon, Lee Health had 89 COVID-19 patients isolated in system hospitals, an increase of nine since their last update Wednesday afternoon. A total of 421 patients who had tested positive have been discharged, including 15 on Wednesday.

The system has submitted a total of 15,209 specimens for testing, with zero results currently pending.

Lee Health mobile collection sites on Wednesday collected 131 specimens and had a total of 922 telemedicine visits.

As of Wednesday, there were 184 Lee Health employees quarantined. Twenty-one employees were positive for COVID-19 after being exposed at work. No update was provided on employees Thursday

Current bed capacity is at 74 percent, with 7.7 percent of those being COVID-19 patients.

As of Thursday, 67 percent of ventilators and 10 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 .

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj