Florida nursing homes leave residents at high risk for COVID-19

(WSVN) - Across the state, nearly 3,800 residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have died from COVID-19. 7’s Kevin Ozebek investigates why that death toll is so high.

For Carmen Marin, the pandemic took away a man who, to her, was more than just her sister’s husband.

Carmen Marin: “I didn’t lose a brother-in-law. I lost a brother.”

On May 1, Jose Garcia died after contracting COVID-19.

Carmen Marin: “He was married to my sister for 51 years.”

Jose tested positive for the virus while he was a resident at the Fair Havens Center nursing home in Miami Springs.

Carmen Marin: “I don’t think they realize the harm and the pain they have caused to so many families.”

To date, 54 residents of Fair Havens Center have died from the coronavirus. That’s the second-highest COVID death toll at a long-term care facility in the state.

One week after Jose died, the state ordered Fair Havens to stop admitting new residents.

Inspectors found an occupational therapist “in the COVID-19 isolation area not wearing full PPE” and after a reshuffling of room assignments, “at least 15 COVID negative residents were exposed to COVID-19.”

Brian Lee: “I think nursing homes have to do a better job at keeping our loved ones safe.”

Brian Lee advocates for nursing home residents through the non-profit Families for Better Care.

Brian Lee: “So they’ve put down the clamps to have no more admissions but at the same time you have those folks inside the facility that could be potentially exposed to COVID.”

Kevin Ozebek: “What should the state have done in your eyes?”

Carmen Marin: “Should have closed the place.”

While Fair Havens remains open, the state has closed six small assisted living facilities in South Florida. Some of their inspection reports are even more startling.

At Freire and Sotomayor assisted living facility in Southwest Miami-Dade, state inspectors noted “the COVID-19 positive residents were not quarantined during the survey visit.”

At South Florida Home Services in Miami, “a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 remained on active duty caring for residents.”

At Salmos 23 V in Hialeah, “a staff member who had tested positive was on site. The staff member wore no personal protective equipment.”

Brian Lee: “It’s baffling. It is horrific.”

At Sara Home Care in Homestead, “no residents wore face masks.”

And at Villa Serena I in Miami, where 14 of the 15 residents tested positive, inspectors found “no gowns, facial shields, or N-95 masks” for staff.

At Villa Serena II, also in Miami, “positive and negative residents were observed interacting.”

Now there are calls for Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, to inspect these facilities more frequently.

Brian Lee: “AHCA has limited its inspection activities to kinda focus on COVID support to facilities, so you’re not seeing the normal inspections happening at the frequency you did, so oversight has definitely softened and weakened through this crisis.”

Carmen also places blame on AHCA for her loss.

Carmen Marin: “I’m still mad.”

Kevin Ozebek: “Mad at who?”

Carmen Marin: “Fair Haven, the State of Florida.”

As for Fair Havens…

Kevin Ozebek: “We’re wondering who we can speak to about this state report against Fair Havens.”

At Ventura Services, the nursing home’s owner answered the door, but two more doorbell rings and 15 minutes of waiting later…

Kevin Ozebek: “I think it is safe to say they aren’t answering.”

No one came to answer our questions.

On the City of Miami Springs website, we did find this statement from Ventura Services saying during the pandemic it has “set the gold standard in testing and properly caring for our residents, unlike many other institutions.”

Carmen Marin: “I think that is ridiculous.”

Hardly what Carmen wants to hear, as she still mourns the loss of her beloved brother-in-law.

On Wednesday, 7News received a statement from Shapiro Consulting Group on behalf of Fair Havens Center Nursing Home that read:

“In May of 2020, the State of Florida mandated that Fair Havens transfer COVID positive patients – those who symptomatic as well as those who were asymptomatic – to area hospitals. Prior to this mandate our in-facility safety protocols maintained a very high survival rate with very few deaths. Our deepest sympathies are with our resident families who have suffered a loss. In accordance with the evolving DOH and CDC guidelines, our employees have been trained, and retrained, and have had all necessary PPE at all times. We appreciate all the hard work and dedication of our employees throughout this difficult and unprecedented pandemic. Currently, we maintain strict testing protocols for all people from the outside coming into the facility, and continue to work with the Department of Health and an infection control consultant, to ensure the health and safety of all residents and employees moving forward.”

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