Families worry about increased cases at long-term facilities in South Florida

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – Martha Fontaine, 84, lives at Residential Plaza for Elderly At Blue Lagoon in Miami-Dade County. Her large family is worried sick about the effects the coronavirus pandemic is having on the 350-bed assisted living facility in the Flagami neighborhood.

Jessica Khachani, one of her granddaughters, said Fontaine is staying inside her room all of the time and she is using a pillow to cover the little gap between the door and the floor. As of Wednesday, four residents and four employees tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Residential Plaza for Elderly At Blue Lagoon (SKY 10)

One of the residents is in isolation at the Residential Plaza and the other three remain hospitalized. The four employees are in self-isolation at home. Suzana Fiat, also Fontaine’s granddaughter, said she wants to know how people at the Residential Plaza were infected.

“If she were to die this way -- not surrounded by her family -- after living the full 84 years, raising four kids, and having a ton of grandkids, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself,” Fiat said.

Fontaine’s family is not alone. The cases of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities in South Florida continue to increase. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 380 cases at facilities in Florida and 159 of them are in South Florida: 70 are in Miami-Dade County, 49 in Broward County and 40 in Palm Beach.

The Florida Department of Health isn’t identifying the facilities, but the facilities are notifying the families and guardians of the residents. Visiting health care workers have said they are not receiving notifications from the facilities with COVID-19-related infections or deaths.

The list of facilities affected in Miami-Dade includes Miami Jewish Health in Little Haiti, Sterling in Aventura, and the Epworth Village Retirement Community in Hialeah.

The list of facilities affected in Broward County includes Atria Willow Wood in Fort Lauderdale, HarborChase in Tamarac, and Five Star Premier Residences and Lincoln Manor in Hollywood.

A nurse checks the temperature of a person arriving at the Epworth Village Retirement Community Wednesday in Hialeah. (Local 10 News)

The coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the Alexander Nininger State Veterans’ Nursing Home after a military veteran who lived at the Pembroke Pines government facility died.

According to retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. R. Steven Murray, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, said the nursing home is the only VA long-term housing facility with confirmed cases of COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

The home has 120 community beds, 56 rooms with two beds and eight private rooms. As of Wednesday night, there were nine military veterans who tested positive for COVID-19, including the man who died.

“All were tested and diagnosed following hospitalization over the past several days -- in one case, several weeks,” Murray said in a statement. “We continue to monitor their progress and are in communications with their doctors and families.”

The department is investigating if there are more people infected. Murray said 41 tests were administered to residents and staff members, and another 50 tests will be administered this week.

Fiat said she doesn’t know if the Residential Plaza for Elderly At Blue Lagoon is investigating or testing others. The family is determined to remove Fontaine from the facility, so she can be safer at a family home.

“I feel they need to test everyone in this facility and it’s been very difficult to get testing,” Fiat said.

About the Authors:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.