LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. — As Florida leaders push to reopen long-term care facilities to visitors, I-Team investigator Adam Walser uncovers a local assisted living facility cited by the state for failing to follow control procedures to stop the spread of COVID-19 and questions about how widespread this problem might be across Florida.
“We have a resident who has fallen and I’m pretty sure he hit his head on the patio,” a staff member of Inspired Living at Lakewood Ranch told a Manatee County 9-1-1 operator on the afternoon of July 11.
That resident was Samantha Zelnik’s 73-year-old father.
“They called and said my dad had fallen. That he was outside on the patio outside. And that she didn’t know how long he had been out there,” said Zelnik.
Even more concerning, the man was one of eight residents in the dementia unit who had tested positive for COVID-19, according to a state inspection report.
“My dad was walking around, being basically a ticking time bomb. That was not ok,” Zelnik said.
Police found no elder abuse or neglect and closed their investigation.
But state regulators opened a separate investigation.
After Zelnik says she called the state’s complaint hotline, inspectors found the facility failing to follow control procedures to mitigate COVID-19.
“What I was worried about was all the residents who were there that were fine, that weren’t COVID positive. And I was just thinking about those families. Did they know?” said Zelnik.
The emergency state inspection report shows staff members working in both the coronavirus isolation unit and with patients not infected with COVID-19.
A state task force is now moving forward with plans to bring visitors back to long term care facilities.
“This access is and should be available, regardless of any cases in the facility or prevalence in the community,” said AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew at a recent task force meeting.
So we wanted to know how well the state’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities are handling infection control.
But the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates and inspects long-term care facilities, couldn’t immediately provide information on how many have been found failing to follow procedures to control the spread of COVID-19.
Two weeks after our request, we are still waiting for answers from the state.
“With COVID-19, the one thing you need is to not only maintain resources but add new resources and have resources in reserve,” said attorney Jessica Moore of the law firm Constantine Cannon.
Moore represents whistle blowers in the healthcare field.
None of her lawsuits have included Inspired Living.
Moore says she’s concerned about a lack of oversight in the system.
“What we had were routine inspections which have been temporarily halted during the crisis,” Moore said.
The federal government has waived the required routine inspections during the pandemic, but the state told us it has visited every nursing home in Florida at least once since March and inspects assisted living facilities when it receives complaints.
The medical examiner’s office for Manatee and Sarasota counties reports at least three residents of Inspired Living at Lakewood Ranch have died from COVID-19 since July 6th.
Zelnik says she moved her father to another facility, where he is now recovering.
“I haven’t been able to give him a hug since March,” Zelnik said.
Even though she would love to hug him, she says she believes it’s more important that everyone is protected.
“Closing down the facilities and keeping people out was the right thing to do. It’s a huge mistake to open them back up at this point,” she said.
We reached out to Inspired Living at Lakewood Ranch and they sent the following statement:
“Given the circumstance we currently live, we are sympathetic with those that face and fight this invisible virus of COVID-19. We are extremely concerned about the situation and are cooperating fully with investigators. Given that this is still being investigated, we are limited in what information we can share right now, but we intend to provide additional information as soon as we can. Inspired Living Lakewood Ranch takes great pride in honoring the moms and dads we care for as members of our own family – we do this by providing quality care for our residents every day.” -Harold Dean, Executive Director, Inspired Living Lakewood Ranch
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