TAMPA, Fla. — Many have loved ones in nursing homes or assisted living facilities across Florida which have been closed off to visitors.
It’s bad enough you can’t check on those loved ones in person, but now we’re seeing the number of positive COVID-19 cases rise in those facilities and many facilities with positive cases are not sharing that information, leaving family members even more concerned for the well-being of their loved ones.
At 96-years-old, Charles Barr still loves playing piano at his Hillsborough County assisted living facility.
But the music stopped when the pandemic forced Florida long term care facilities to shut their doors to visitors. Most residents in these facilities are confined to their rooms.
Now, the only way Charles’ daughter, Linda, can see her dad is through his window.
“It’s trying on our emotions,” Linda told 10Investigates’ Jennifer Titus.
Especially when the numbers of positive cases in Florida’s long-term care facilities grows every day. 10Investigates discovered the numbers have more than quadrupled in one week, totaling more than 1,100 cases two weeks into April.
“I don’t know if we would know about it and that’s one of my concerns,” said Linda.
That concern stems from the fact the state is not releasing the names of facilities with positive cases, citing HIPPA regulations.
“I absolutely think residents and family members should be told and I think the government can release locations that have it because they are not identifying anyone. And my background is public records law. There are ways you can release information without identifying someone.”
"The numbers just keep piling up we know the number of infections but don’t know what facilities,” Brian Lee told Titus.
Without that information, no one knows if their loved ones’ facility is safe or not.
Lee is the Executive Director for Families for Better Care, an advocacy group for those living in nursing home facilities. He says it’s time for the government and these facilities to be transparent.
In April, one corporation took the first step. Pruitt Health, a nursing home corporation that has three facilities in Florida, released the data of all of its facilities with COVID-19 cases. Lee says that step is a huge turning point.
“So, the argument that’s being made that privacy laws are preventing the state and providers from being transparent with folks this is a real game-changer,” said Lee.
Tracy Wieder is hoping for that game-changer.
“It’s been very difficult,” Tracy explained to Titus.
She lost her father to COVID-19 in a senior living facility in March 2020 in Broward County.
“We never thought this would be it. We never got to say goodbye,” said Sheila Curren, Tracy’s mother.
Sheila and Tracy haven’t even been able to get his belongings since he passed away.
His facility did send updates to family members about COVID-19 cases, but she's disappointed it’s not the same across the state.
“I’m saddened to hear that these people don’t know where the cases are.”
Sadness, transforming into frustration for those still left without answers.
“It angers me because it’s not their info to keep this is something the public should know and someone who has a loved one in these facilities should know,” said Linda about her father’s facility.
10Investigates requested that list of facilities from the Department of Health and The Agency of Health Care Administration. We’ll continue asking for those records until we get them.
The 10Investigates team has also reached out to the governor's office about getting that list.
If you would like to reach out to the governor and voice your concerns, click here.
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