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New nursing home alternative opens in Orlando

Orlando Sentinel - 5/29/2024

Orlando has a new option for low-income seniors who might otherwise need to enter a nursing home.

A 32,000-square-foot center on Orange Blossom Trail that held its grand opening Wednesday will offer medical and social services to Central Floridians ages 55 and up who qualify for nursing home care but want to keep living at home and can do so safely.

The center’s offerings include primary, specialty and dental care, as well as transportation, care counseling and recreational activities for residents of Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties.

For those who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid, it’s free. A small number of people with private insurance can participate as well.

It’s based on a health care model pioneered in the 1970s called Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE. The program took off during the pandemic amid widescale nursing home closures and an influx of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Orlando’s center is run by InnovAge, the largest operator of PACE centers in the country.

“At its core, you know, this is about helping those who need a little extra help,” said Patrick Blair, president and CEO of InnovAge, at Wednesday’s grand opening. “The single goal for us is yo keep people in their homes, with their families.”

InnovAge spokeswoman Lara Hazenfield estimates Orlando’s center can serve up to 1,300 clients.

This is InnovAge’s second Florida PACE Center after the opening of a Tampa location in January, and Orlando’s first and only PACE Center. The center will start seeing its first participants on Saturday.

With its Florida expansion, the for-profit company hopes to leave behind past controversy.

Several InnovAge PACE Centers in California and Colorado were sanctioned in 2021 by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services after surprise audits found quality of care issues. All sanctions were lifted in 2023 after inspections confirmed the facilities’ problems were fixed.

“We are proud of the work our team has done to improve operations, standardize processes, and of the continued efforts to provide our seniors with high-quality, compassionate care … We continue to work closely with our regulators and conduct our own audits in each center. InnovAge is in an exciting new chapter of responsible growth,” said a written statement provided on behalf of Blair.

Wednesday’s event was attended by current and former elected officials, community leaders, and members of InnovAge’s board of directors, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The center announced during the ceremony that it has partnered with Orlando Health. Details of the partnership, and what it entails, are still being worked out.

Andy Gardiner, senior vice president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health, said in an interview after the ceremony that the partnership will provide additional resources for patients after they leave the hospital.

“When you’re discharged from one of our facilities, there’s a whole host of issues that you may be facing: food insecurity, potential housing. We track all those things and we try to be a resource through our community coordinators,” he said. “To have [InnovAge] as a part of that is going to be invaluable.”

There are other PACE programs located throughout Florida, and Blair said he hopes more InnovAge PACE Centers will come soon.

“We’re committed to becoming a central hub in the community for seniors,” he said. “What we hear most often is how impactful what we do is on families – not just on the people who come here every day – but just the family itself, and how they look to this as a support network, as a group of people they trust with the health of their loved one. And I think we really take that obligation and trust seriously.”

To see if you or a loved one qualifies, take a quiz at www.innovage.com/qualifier-tool.  InnovAge’s Orlando center can be reached at (689) 303-6135.

Ccatherman@orlandosentinel.com

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