Details Scarce About Coronavirus Cases at Florida Long-Term Care Facilities

Long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities have proven to be death traps if the coronavirus gets in and spreads. Despite a growing number of cases in Florida, the state continues to be small on the details. 

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Family members of Doris Baker, 94, remember her as a loving grandmother who was always on the move.

“She traveled the world,” Carolyn Baker, her daughter in law, told NBC 6 exclusively. “She was very healthy. She was healthier than any 94 and a half year old I have ever heard of. She would have been 95 on the 27th of this month.”

Courtesy: Doris Baker's family

But Doris died four days ago at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, isolated from her family. 

She is one of at least seven residents from the Atria Willow Wood senior center who have died from COVID-19 complications. The facility says a total of 20 residents and one staff member have tested positive for the virus as of April 6.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the medical team he sent to inspect the facility allege Atria allowed construction workers and some staff to mix in with the residents without proper controls last month, which allowed the spread of the virus. Atria's management called that accusation “unfair.” 

Doris Baker and her granddaughter. Courtesy: Doris Baker’s Family.

“I was shocked and very alarmed. I had no idea they were so laxed in letting people live there under those conditions,” Carolyn said.  

Atria told NBC 6 it has been working alongside state health officials to make sure that its protocols are all up to speed adding they are waiting for four other residents to be tested for COVID-19.

According to the daily update from the Florida Department of Health, more than 400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in long-term care facilities in the state. But despite many calls to release details about the cases, the state has limited its data to countywide numbers.

The lack of transparency is a concern for Suzana Fiat.

Her 84-year-old grandmother is a resident at the Residential Plaza for Elderly at Blue Lagoon, an assisted living facility where multiple COVID-19 cases have been identified. 

NBC 6 Investigators confirmed there have been four residents and four employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Residential Plaza.

Fiat says her grandmother suffers from dementia and she worries about not being able to monitor the day-to-day operations, like the procedures nurses are following to go in and out of her room. 

“We don’t have eyes and ears there to know did the nurse go in with gloves? Did the nurse wear a mask when she brought her the meals?” Fiat said. 

The family of an elderly COVID-19 victim speaks out on what they say is a nursing home's mistakes. NBC 6's Willard Shepard reports.

Fiat believes the facility’s management has tried to be as transparent as it can but she still has concerns. 

“They haven’t let any family visit for about a month already, so how are these patients getting these positive tests now? Is it that they’re not taking the necessary precautions, is it being brought in by employees, the cook, the nurses. What is that going on?” Fiat said. 

Residential Plaza said they’ve implemented the “Centers for Disease Control infection control guidelines, including self-isolation and qualified testing requests upon learning of the confirmed cases.” The statement went on to say the facility is working closely with local authorities to expedite testing for residents and staff as well to continue to take “all necessary precautions with their health and safety in mind.”

According to state data, if someone over the age of 65 is confirmed by the state to have the virus, there’s a 30 percent chance the person will go to the hospital and a seven percent chance the person will die. 

The state reports a total of 415 cases at long-term care facilities including 70 in Miami-Dade, 49 in Broward, and 40 in Palm Beach.  

In Miami-Dade, at least seven of the 70 reported live or work at Jackson Memorial Long-Term Care Center. 

Around half of the Broward numbers come from Atria Willow Wood in Fort Lauderdale. 

In Palm Beach County, where forty COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in long-term care facilities, one in four people in the county are over the age of 65. 

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.

In a letter sent to Gov. DeSantis and Secretary May Mayhew of the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), Representative Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, calls on the state to release specifically “which facilities throughout the state have reported cases.” 

The letter was signed by twelve other Florida lawmakers and the call is echoed by the state's AARP.  

NBC 6 Investigators have repeatedly requested the names and locations of the facilities from AHCA, but we have not received the information.

“We are the guardians of our seniors; it’s up to all of us to safeguard those who face the greatest risk of infection. We are ready and willing to assist with these efforts,” Rep. Wilson wrote.

Florida has 691 licensed nursing homes, housing 71,000 people. 

 At a Wednesday press conference, Gov. DeSantis said the state will continue releasing county by county numbers and did not answer why the specific locations were unreported.

Getty Images
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Miami Beach Convention Center to discuss the U.S. Army Corps' building of a coronavirus field hospital inside the facility on April 8, 2020. (Photo by Al Diaz / various sources / AFP) (Photo by AL DIAZ/AFP via Getty Images)

 “I challenge you to find another state that’s even close to us in transparency,” DeSantis said.  “In every daily report, we report either staff or somebody living in assisted living, all that is listed by county numbers.” 

DeSantis said his administration is prioritizing testing people in nursing homes but is hindered by the overall short supply of testing.

Fiat says her family decided to move her grandmother out of Residential Plaza for now.

 “I can’t imagine my grandmother having this at 84 years old with her underlying health conditions. I can’t foresee her making it through,” Fiat said.

Carolyn says her family is attempting to get Doris's belongings back, as they grieve her loss.

“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to turn. I don’t know if a mover will go in there," she said.

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