Some Tampa Bay nursing home residents still ‘in the dark’ following mass transport from Freedom Square

Residents were brought to three area hospitals after COVID-19 outbreak.

click to enlarge Some Tampa Bay nursing home residents still ‘in the dark’ following mass transport from Freedom Square
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Thirty-eight residents of Freedom Square’s Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation & Nursing Service, a standalone building on campus, were transported to three area hospitals Tuesday, April 14, Michael Mason, executive director, wrote in an April 16 statement. Those transferred to local hospitals “were asymptomatic but potentially exposed, symptomatic or…had confirmed cases of COVID-19,” he stated.

As of Thursday afternoon, 21 Seminole Pavilion residents and six employees have tested positive for coronavirus, he added. The first case was confirmed April 9. 

Staff at the senior living facility—located at 10800 Temple Terrace in Seminole—coordinated the April 14 mass transport in collaboration with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services, HCA Healthcare and BayCare Health System. Mason said that “this unprecedented move is a remarkable testament to the collaborative spirit” of the agencies involved. 

Mason’s statement did not include the names of the hospitals where residents were taken, and he did not respond to further questions. 

John Peterson, chief operating officer for Sunstar Paramedics, which provided the ambulance transportation, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that he cannot name the hospitals due to “patient confidentiality issues.”

Florida Politics previously reported that the residents were brought to Morton Plant Hospital, Largo Medical Center and St. Anthony’s Hospital.

Moving forward, all Freedom Square residents and employees will be tested for coronavirus, and the facility is following “all local, regional and federal guidelines, including CDC required protocols, to protect our residents and employees,” Mason said. “Implemented protocols include wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment and conducting temperature checks with employees multiple times during their shifts.”

Additionally, Freedom Square has hired a professional cleaning service to disinfect Seminole Pavilion and all health centers.

Freedom Square, with more than 700 residents, began implementing “precautionary and protective measures” on campus in late February, Mason added. 

“This is a difficult and challenging time as our community and state work to contain the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “As a senior living community, our priority is to protect the health and safety of our patients, residents and employees.”

Some residents are concerned by the lack of communication from Freedom Square regarding coronavirus cases at the facility, though.

A Seminole resident who asked to remain anonymous told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that as of Thursday afternoon, her 80-something-year-old mother, who lives at Freedom Square, “hasn’t been told anything” about recent COVID-19 cases on campus or Tuesday’s mass transport of patients to local hospitals. 

“They haven’t called families or told my mom much of anything,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

She added, “She’s just sitting in her room. Scared.”

Joe Corbin, a 93-year-old resident of Freedom Square’s Washington Building, told CL he also “wasn’t aware of any emergency.” In recent weeks, staff has distributed memos regarding COVID-19-related updates and precautions on campus, he said, though he has not received any information regarding the 38 individuals brought to hospitals Tuesday. 

Jeni Freeland Berry, also a Freedom Square resident, told CL that she feels that residents are being kept “in the dark.” 

There has been no official communication from staff regarding the new cases on campus, and she hopes residents will receive an update soon. Her main concerns involve safety surrounding food and towel distribution, and the planned testing of residents. 

“When (are they) testing all (of us)? Not just those with symptoms,” Berry said.

Mason said, “We have an internal communication process that we follow to keep our residents, families, our employees informed with the latest information and we have communicated to them regarding (Tuesday’s) transport of residents.”

Still, Berry appreciates everything staff is doing “to keep our spirits up.” On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, staff distributes “goodies and snacks” as well as face masks, she said. The house television channel offers new programming, including exercise programs, and virtual vacations and tours, and recently, a musician performed for residents from the lawn below their balconies.

Kayla Howell, a dining room manager at Freedom Square, said residents in the independent living facility on campus are “staying in their rooms as of right now” and “are actually doing fine here.”

“Memos have been posted here constantly. (We’re) keeping them updated and informed,” she added. “I stand by our community and everything we have done to keep our residents safe and our employees. It’s a beautiful thing when we all come together. We are all family here and we all stick together in these times of uncertainty.”

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