There are now 82 residents and staff members that have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Community Care Center.
For weeks, Plant City remained relatively unscathed while the county braced itself for the rapid spread of COVID-19.
The city’s cases remained in single digits for nearly a month before creeping up slowly into the teens. Then, overnight, everything changed. The state released an updated report that showed residents and staff at the Community Convalescent Center, aka the Community Care Center, at 2202 W. Oak Ave. tested positively for the virus. The numbers swelled.
The initial report showed 56 residents and 17 staff members were positive as of Tuesday morning, totaling 73 cases. The residents were transferred out of the facility. By Tuesday afternoon, 65 residents and the same number of staff were infected, increasing the total to 82 coronavirus cases. The facility itself is a not-for-profit that holds 120 beds. Fifty-four percent of its residents were infected as of press time.
It’s the county’s worst fear and Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, repeatedly states to members of the Emergency Policy Group that their main focus is on protecting the most vulnerable: those in long-term care facilities.
The family members of the 65 positive residents are beginning to speak out. Many turned to social media to share their anxiety and frustration while others have come to the facility’s defense saying they plan to have their loved one return once “all of this is taken care of.”
A letter to family members from CCC indicated the first domino in the infection rate fell on April 24. The letter said “all staff members continue to follow public health recommendations to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.”
Multiple family members said the emergency contacts for all of the residents received a phone call from the facility notifying them that a resident had tested positive with COVID-19. CCC told the family members it was taking precautions to prevent further spreading and an official notification later was mailed.
Three days later, another call came through identifying an additional positive case. The phone rang again the next day, this time saying the numbers had risen to five residents and one staff member. While communication continued on a regular basis, the facility stopped reporting the specific numbers.
J.R. Pitts said he was told his 96-year-old grandmother Mavis Cleveland, who has dementia, was going to be moved downstairs while they sanitized the area she was in. Over the weekend, the family received notice that she tested negative but was still going to be moved. On Monday night, the family received a call that their grandmother’s roommate had tested positive, so they retested Cleveland and found she now tested positive as well. Pitts said she was transferred a few hours later to South Florida Baptist Hospital.
Cleveland is currently asymptomatic and her vitals are checked every few hours, so if she does begin developing symptoms they can quickly begin treatment.
Pitts said overall their family is “currently satisfied with the level of communication we have received.” The near daily phone calls and letters kept them relatively in the loop, and he believes they transferred Cleveland at a reasonable pace when she tested positive.
“We have a generally positive view of Community Convalescent and have been satisfied with them up to this point,” Pitts said. “They did restrict outside visits early and have taken the other recommended actions. It might have been nice to know the numbers were increasing so rapidly, although there’s nothing we could have done, and they were already calling just about daily anyway.”
Not everyone shares that sentiment.
Julie Hilson and her family are living with questions of “what if?” Hilson’s grandfather-in-law lived in Georgia and nearly a month ago fell and broke his femur. With COVID-19 beginning to sweep through the country, the family had a tough decision to make. They could either move him to a facility in Atlanta where he would be completely alone or move him to a facility in Plant City near his family. They chose to bring him to CCC.
When he left Georgia he took a COVID-19 test and it came back negative. When he was ready to enter the facility, the first warning sign arose. Hilson said when the workers came out to get her grandfather-in-law, they were not properly wearing their masks. The items covered their mouths, but not their noses. It wasn’t until her husband said something that they corrected the PPEs and began leading their new patient inside.
Patients at CCC have access to many devices that allow them to stay in contact with their loved ones. As the weeks passed they were able to frequently check in with her grandfather-in-law, but something odd was beginning to occur.
According to Hilson, as new patients entered the facility they were not quarantined for 14 days, but instead were placed with the other residents.
Her grandfather-in-law told them his new roommate was not there for long before he was suddenly moved. Another man quickly took his place. Not long after that man was also removed. At the time they didn’t understand what was going on, but Hilson said they later found out both of the new roommates had tested positive for COVID-19. Then he was also tested. The family was told he was positive as well and he was quickly transferred to the hospital.
“It’s horrible because these individuals cannot care for themselves,” Hilson said. “Currently my grandfather-in-law is sitting down there at the hospital under a 14 day quarantine because he had a positive test result and there’s other people down there. My sister-in-law’s great aunt is on life support because of the same situation. They were moving people into rooms without knowing if they were positive or not. How do they do something like this to people who are there because they need help? These people aren’t able to fight for themselves, to care for themselves and they trusted that they were being taken care of.”
The CCC did not return a call for a request to comment to the above stated comments, but did send a statement about how the facility was now handling the threat of COVID-19. The statement from administrator Donna Rogers said in addition to the fundamental infection control protocols in place, they had set up units to monitor residents.
“In addition, our trained professionals have created dedicated units to monitor and care for all of our residents,” Rogers said. “This includes a unit for those who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as a step-down unit and wellness unit for those who are unaffected.”
Rogers added the facility remains in close contact with the Florida Department of Health, the Agency for Health Care Administration and other state and federal partners to monitor the virus.
Hilson, however, said she believes the outbreak is the result of “blatant negligence.” Though she said they did receive frequent communication, she said the responses were vague and didn’t convey the seriousness of the situation.
She said “the numbers don’t lie” and regardless of what safety precautions were in place, something obviously went wrong. At the end of the day, she said, she hopes CCC will come forward and say they handled the situation wrongly but that they have corrected it, then show evidence of the procedures in place to protect the remaining residents who are not yet infected.
“We thought we were doing a good thing by moving him down here and here we are, we moved him into the lion’s den,” Hilson said. “They need to own up to what happened and then do everything they can to fix it. We want the people in there who cannot fight for themselves to have someone to fight for them. And if that has to be us, then that’s what we’ll do. We are all just appalled.”
CCC did not return a call to comment on any claims from family members.