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New nursing home alternative opens in Orlando

Orlando offers a new option for low-income seniors who would otherwise have to go into a nursing home.

A 32,000-square-foot center on Orange Blossom Trail, which celebrated its grand opening Wednesday, will provide medical and social services to Central Florida residents ages 55 and older who are eligible for nursing home care but want to continue living at home and can do so safely.

The center provides primary care, specialty medical and dental care, as well as transportation, nursing counseling and recreational activities for residents of Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties.

Participation is free for those who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. A small number of people with private health insurance can also participate.

It is based on a health care model developed in the 1970s called the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). The program was introduced during the pandemic, when many nursing homes were closed and federal funds were made available for COVID-19 relief.

The Orlando center is operated by InnovAge, the largest operator of PACE centers in the country.

“At the core, this is about helping those who need a little extra help,” said Patrick Blair, president and CEO of InnovAge, at the opening on Wednesday. “Our only goal is to keep people in their homes with their families.”

InnovAge spokeswoman Lara Hazenfield estimates the Orlando center can serve up to 1,300 customers.

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

With its expansion in Florida, the for-profit company hopes to put the controversies of the past behind it.

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

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

Wednesday's event was attended by current and former elected officials, community leaders and InnovAge board members, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Nurses station at the clinic – Opening ceremony and tour of the InnovAge Florida PACE (program for comprehensive geriatric care) center in Orlando on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)

During the ceremony, the center announced that it has entered into a partnership with Orlando Health. Details of the partnership and its content are still being worked out.

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

“When you are discharged from one of our facilities, you may be facing a whole host of issues: food insecurity, potential housing options. We track all of those things and try to be a resource through our community coordinators,” he said. “To [InnovAge] for part of it will be of inestimable value.”

Quiet Room 3 InnovAge Florida PACE (Program for Comprehensive Elder Care) opening ceremony and tour of the Orlando Center on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)
Quiet Room 3 – Opening ceremony and tour of the InnovAge Florida PACE (Program for Comprehensive Elder Care) center in Orlando on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)

There are other PACE programs throughout Florida, and Blair said he hopes more InnovAge PACE centers will be added soon.

“We want to become a one-stop shop for seniors in the community,” he said. “What we hear most often is how impactful our work is for families – not just the people who come here every day – but for the family itself and how they see this as a support network, a group of people they trust with the health of their loved ones. And I think we take that commitment and that trust really seriously.”

To find out if you or a loved one qualifies, take a test at www.innovage.com/qualifier-tool. To contact the InnovAge center in Orlando, call (689) 303-6135.

Ccatherman@orlandosentinel.com

Anna Harden

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