‘It's Like a Secret': Senior Care Workers Want More Information About COVID-19 Cases

Employees at senior living facilities are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. But they don’t always know if there is a case inside the building where they work.

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Rosa Mercedes is tasked to treat the most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Every time I get out (to go to work), I put myself in God’s hands,” she said.  

Mercedes, a certified nursing assistant at the North Beach Health & Rehabilitation center in North Miami Beach, says she is frustrated because the facility won’t tell her more about who has COVID-19 in the building.

Rosa Mercedes is a certified nursing assistant.

“You know, it’s like a secret. They (the facility) have it like a secret. They don’t care if you get sick or not, you know,” she said. 

Mercedes says she called in sick Monday because she had a cough and lost the taste in her mouth. She worries that she caught the virus on the job. 

“They (the facility) don’t want to let you know. They just say work like everybody has COVID-19,” Mercedes said. 

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents Mercedes and workers in dozens of nursing homes across the state, says the facilities should release the information about COVID-19 cases to protect both workers and residents.

“So they (workers) can stay safe, their residents can stay safe and they aren’t bringing anything home to their families,” said Dequasia Canales, an SEIU vice president in Florida.

Canales says the union started calling members across the state to track down cases.

She says they’ve learned that almost 90 of their members are quarantined or just recently left. Members have also reported that 72 residents have tested positive and around 50 residents could have the virus, but the facility wouldn’t confirm the information.

“Our members have also been on the frontlines. Not only doing their jobs but advocating along with us for more transparency,” Canales said. “We can’t say it’s fixed because there are still a lot of problems and things going on that we don’t know about, but we do have people out there who are just like you trying to find the answers and get more accurate information.”

State officials were asked several times this week why they are not naming the facilities. 

“...There’s more data put out by the Florida’s Department of Health than anywhere,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said while defending the state’s position. 

When asked about the information, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said it will stay within the facility and the residents’ families - adding the state will continue to release the information by county.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

We also requested the information from the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) weeks ago. In an email, an agency’s spokesperson told us our request is still under legal review. 

Leadingage Florida, a trade group for senior living facilities, supports identifying those with cases. But the Florida Health Care Association, a larger advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the elderly, tells NBC 6 Investigators it’s up to the governor and the state’s health department to disclose such information.

Mercedes worries about her patients and her family waiting for her at home.

What happens if I die and I leave my kids behind?

Rosa Mercedes said, while fighting back tears.

In an email, Greystone Healthcare Management, the owners of the facility where Mercedes works, confirmed it has been impacted by COVID-19, with at least one positive diagnosis on the premises. 

“We are extremely proud of our 6,300 caregivers across the country who are going above and beyond during this difficult time to care for those who depend on us,” the company’s CEO, Stephanie Handelson, said in a statement. “The care and safety of our residents and employees are the number one priority of all Greystone Care Centers.”

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