Negligence at elder care facility 'cost' lives, possibly criminal: Florida governor

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(FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla.) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the negligence of a Broward County assisted living facility in handling the novel coronavirus pandemic "cost . . . residents their lives" and "could be" considered criminal.

DeSantis said in a press conference Monday that three residents have died at the Atria Willow Wood facility, in Ft. Lauderdale, after testing positive for coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

Staff had been going into the facility "coughing up a storm" or "visibly ill" without proper screening, according to the governor, citing results from an investigation by the state's Department of Health.

"It was pretty clear early on that this was avoidable. … It clearly fell below the standard of care and whether it went into criminal, I think that's a possibility," he said.

Atria Senior Living, the operator of the facility, denied the allegations made by DeSantis.

"The Governor’s recent comments were an inaccurate description of many steps we have taken to protect the health and safety of our residents. Beginning March 4, we have been actively screening all visitors and prohibiting anyone from working in the community if he or she is unable to pass our screening, well before any state guidance on this was provided," according to a statement from the operator.

The statement also noted that the Department of Health was on-site and "entirely supportive" of the facility's protocols after the first confirmed case was reported there.

DeSantis painted a much different picture. He said members of the CDC, law enforcement and state health officials were now at the site overseeing operations because of the deaths.

In the same press conference, DeSantis said that the state had imposed "rigorous" requirements for staff members of assisted living facilities in terms of checking their health and who was allowed in.

"I gotta say the vast majority of these facilities in Florida have been very rigorous in doing that," he said.

There are at least 1,227 confirmed cases of coronavirus and at least 17 deaths in Florida, according to the state's Department of Health.

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