Arrogant UF Health failed miserably in handling of Villages COVID-19 testing site

We can’t imagine the horror Villager Carol Lynch must have felt as she became ill and desperately needed to know if she was suffering from the Coronavirus.

Her daughter, Shannon Lynch, of Cohasset, Mass., said her mother gets a case of bronchitis every year and she initially dismissed her cough as just that. By March 23 – the first day of UF Health’s COVID-19 testing at The Villages Polo Fields – Lynch’s “bronchitis” had worsened.

Carol Lynch, center, with her daughters.

Like many Villagers, she attempted to get an appointment for testing at the polo fields site. We’re guessing the Village of Winifred resident who absolutely loved living in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown figured it would be a simple thing to get tested in her own community. But like many other Villagers, Lynch – already suffering from a fever and a cough – couldn’t get an appointment through the UF Health COVID-19 webpage.

Within days, the tiny lady famed for her zest for life and enthusiasm for singing was having trouble talking. She was suffering from a fever and was disoriented. She was transported by ambulance to UF Health The Villages Hospital, where she was diagnosed with the Coronavirus. She died April 2 and left behind three shocked and grieving daughters who couldn’t even be with her at the end.

We’ll never know if getting tested at the polo fields site several days earlier would have saved Lynch’s life. We certainly know if wouldn’t have hurt. But what we find appalling is that the main goal of the site was to test those who were asymptomatic for research purposes.

Testing for the COVID-19 virus and for future research on the disease got under way at The Villages Polo Fields on March 23.

That’s right, at the height of a pandemic that is most dangerous to the elderly – the vast majority of Villages residents certainly fall into that category – a major player in the healthcare world brought a much-needed COVID-19 testing site to the community and opted to test 1,400 people in the first week who were showing absolutely no symptoms. Surprise, surprise – only two of those patients tested positive.

Yes, the site also tested about 900 people who were showing symptoms consistent with the Coronavirus and 23 tested positive. But in a community of seniors gripped by fear as a potentially deadly virus swept through the area, wouldn’t it have made more sense to test as many of those showing symptoms as possible?

At the very least it would have given them peace of mind. It also would have solidified the need for those residents to self-isolate themselves. And it would have sent a really positive message in a time when all of us need a boost.

Instead, the message from the out-of-town-based healthcare provider that’s nestled tightly in bed with the Villages Developer and owns both hospitals sent the exact opposite message – those with symptoms don’t rank nearly as high in the self-absorbed world of academia as those who truly need help.

The UF Health COVID-19 testing site at The Villages Polo Fields remained dormant on Friday morning.

Forget about their immense fears and the glimmer of hope a local testing site – one that originally was billed for Villagers only – brought to them. Because getting one’s name on breakthrough research brings a whole lot of attention and prestige – much more, of course, than putting a bunch of seniors at ease by telling them they don’t have a potentially deadly disease.

What’s also appalling is the way UF Health operated the webpage Villagers and area residents were forced to use to seek a testing appointment. They had to go online every day and attempt to grab one of the few slots available. One resident, Village of Briar Meadow resident Priscilla Maday, filled out all the information on the questionnaire but when she submitted it, she was told to select a different time. Then, a message popped up saying none were available.

Another Villager, Beatrice Verbois, struggled mightily for two weeks in failed efforts to get appointments for her and her 84-year-old husband. She started every day at 8 a.m. and at one point thought she had been successful but soon found out she hadn’t been.

“Will I ever get a time slot for my husband and myself?” she asked. “I am thoroughly frustrated.”

The COVID-19 research testing site at The Villages Polo Fields wasn’t open last Tuesday – a fact that wasn’t made known to Villagers who were seeking tests.

After putting Villagers through that sadistic nonsense for several days, UF Health finally updated its webpage – exactly one day after Villages-News.com printed a story about the frustrations expressed by area residents.

The updated webpage said scheduling for the polo fields site was no longer available and it would re-open when additional supplies, such as testing kits and personal protective equipment, became available. It said openings at the site would be announced “24-36 hours in advance” via the Developer-owned newspaper’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and mobile device apps. It didn’t give any further instructions for getting time slots and once again didn’t offer a phone number nor an email address for questions.

If that absurd plan wasn’t bad enough – limiting such an important message to a limited media source clearly makes no sense – the webpage offered tips for those desperately seeking appointments to reduce their chances of exposure and spreading the virus.

Villagers and other area residents sought tested for the Coronavirus after completing requirements through a UF Health website.

Let’s remember that these folks already have symptoms, they’re scared and they want answers. Instead, they’re coldly told to do things like stay home; wash their hands; avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth; sneeze or cough into a tissue or the inside of their elbows; practice social distancing; clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces; and wear a mask in public.

If you ask us, the UF Health officials and their counterparts in The Villages who are responsible for this boondoggle should hang their heads in shame. Better yet, perhaps they could explain to Lynch’s daughters why research among patients with no symptoms was so much more important than getting their sick mother in for a test.

That said, maybe they also can remember that they’re dealing with senior citizens who are terrified of dying rather than treating them exactly like you would expect an arrogance-laced, out-of-town healthcare provider to act toward a community it clearly doesn’t understand nor have a desire to embrace.

UF Health finally updated its webpage on Wednesday to tell Villagers the testing site at the polo fields was shutting down. Many area residents had expressed frustration as they attempted to get appointments at the site with no luck.

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