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Second nursing home in Pinellas reports flare-up of coronavirus, county says

Thirteen residents and eight staff tested positive for COVID-19 at St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor
Published Apr. 20, 2020
Updated Apr. 21, 2020

PALM HARBOR — A second adult care center in Pinellas County has reported a flare-up of COVID-19 cases.

Thirteen residents and eight staff members tested positive for the disease at St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor, according to an email the county administrator’s office sent to commissioners Monday. As of 2 p.m., at least seven patients were expected to be transferred to a hospital, records show.

St. Mark Village asked the county and state for help with the COVID-19 cases this past weekend, Doug Fresh, chief executive of the center, told the Tampa Bay Times.

A patient tested positive April 10 in a skilled-care wing unit that accommodates about 20 patients. Fresh said he also asked the governor’s office to send a National Guard Strike Team to test about 100 employees who worked in the wing.

Related: Florida coronavirus deaths surpass 800; more than 27,000 confirmed cases
A resident being taken to the hospital on Monday from St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor. Several residents who were presumed to have tested positive for COVID-19 were taken to local hospitals.
A resident being taken to the hospital on Monday from St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor. Several residents who were presumed to have tested positive for COVID-19 were taken to local hospitals. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

The rise in cases at St. Mark Village follows an outbreak last week at Freedom Square of Seminole, where three nursing home residents died. Both facilities were named in a list Gov. Ron DeSantis released Saturday identifying more than 300 nursing homes and assisted living facilities that have reported cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The sprawling Freedom Square retirement community has seen dozens hospitalized because of the virus, officials said. A total of 95 residents have been removed from its Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation nursing home, which will be closed and decontaminated.

Related: Pinellas nursing home evacuated after outbreak; 3 dead from coronavirus

Discussions are underway with local, state, and federal leaders about an offer to provide additional testing to all employees and residents showing symptoms of COVID-19 on the Freedom Square campus, the company said Monday. So far, 41 residents have tested positive and 77 negative, while 21 employees have tested positive and 37 negative.

Patients who tested positive at St. Mark Village were isolated from other patients, CEO Fresh said. Those awaiting transport were headed to Mease Countryside Hospital, he added.

Employees of St. Mark Village wait for Sunstar employees to transport residents of St. Mark Village nursing home Monday in Palm Harbor.
Employees of St. Mark Village wait for Sunstar employees to transport residents of St. Mark Village nursing home Monday in Palm Harbor. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

“We were very stable," he said. "This is just to give us help. We want to do what’s right.”

St. Mark Village was cited in September by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for three problems with hygiene practices. A nursing assistant wore an uncleanable hand brace, yearly infection control training was not conducted, and no staff education was provided upon discovery of head lice in four patients, according to an inspection report.

Pinellas County Commission chair Pat Gerard said the county expects to receive help from the National Guard to test nursing home residents for the virus, but she does not yet know the details.

An outbreak in a nursing home, Gerard said, “is a dangerous situation.”

County health officials are concerned about employees who work across a number of buildings at adult care campuses like St. Mark Village or Freedom Square of Seminole. They could unknowingly carry the virus to different wings.

St. Mark Village was one of 44 Tampa Bay centers included in DeSantis’s list of 303 facilities around Florida that have reported cases of COVID-19. Not provided are key details, such as how many cases per facility, whether the cases represent residents or staff, and which of the facilities had deaths.

State health officials on Monday did not provide details about how the list was compiled.

Related: COVID-19 cases in Florida elder care facilities: Here's a breakdown

The Tampa Bay Times called all 44 centers in the area and heard back from 18 Monday.

Two of them were the flare-ups at Freedom Square of Seminole and St. Mark’s Village. Six told the Times they had three or fewer positive cases. Three others confirmed their cases, but wouldn’t provide specifics on how many, whether the patients were employees or residents, or whether they were hospitalized. And seven either disputed their inclusion on the list, said they never had any positive tests, or argued that they shouldn’t be on the list because the individuals recovered.

The 21 cases at St. Mark Village was the second largest number so far in the Times roundup, behind only Freedom Square of Seminole.

All four Hillsborough facilities included on the state list provided the information requested — specific numbers of cases, whether they involved employees or residents and whether the person infected was recovering.

An employee at Freedom Plaza in Sun City Center told a manager they weren’t feeling well on March 30, was tested and did not return to the office, executive director Angie Roher wrote in an email. The employee’s test came back positive on April 3 and all employees and residents were notified.

Elsewhere in Hillsborough, three individuals, including two roommates, tested positive at Rocky Creek Village, administrator Joseph Giani said. One employee, who did not regularly interact with patients, has been self-quarantining at home. The two residents, both men, did not show symptoms. One was admitted to the hospital, but released three days later after two tests showed he was negative, Giani said.

Two Sunstar Paramedics ambulances make their way to St. Mark Village nursing home in Palm Harbor on Monday.
Two Sunstar Paramedics ambulances make their way to St. Mark Village nursing home in Palm Harbor on Monday. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Staff called relatives of each resident to inform them of the positive cases. One woman decided to take her mother home following the news, Giani said. She will have to show proof of a negative test before she can return to the facility.

Three of the 18 centers that responded to the Times provided vague statements confirming they had cases but did not answer questions about who was infected or whether they were recovering.

“The center has been advised that a number of residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19," wrote Susan Kaar, vice president for Southern Healthcare Management, which includes Riviera Palms Rehabilitation Center and Braden River Rehabilitation Center in Manatee. Both were on the governor’s list.

Similarly, Brookdale Senior Living said more than one member of the Bradenton Gardens facility had tested positive but would not provide specifics. Heather Hunter, public relations manager for Brookdale, said that the facility has been in regular contact with residents’ families and that they are welcome to have conversations with the executive director.

Some of the 18 adult care centers argued they should not be on the list at all.

Officials at Belleair Health Care Center and Palm Garden, which had locations in Clearwater and Largo on the list, all said they previously had cases but no longer do.

BayCare Health officials said the inclusion of Morton Plant Rehabilitation Center was “inconsistent with past guidance" from the state. A worker there, who had not been in the facility for more than two weeks, tested positive but BayCare was told "no exposure would have occurred and notification requirements did not apply,” communications manager Liza Razler said in an email to the Times.

Other facilities argued said they haven’t had a positive test.

Cary Jensen, the owner of Crown Court in Inverness, said a resident of the facility was admitted to a hospital with pneumonia and tested negative for COVID-19. He was later listed “presumptive positive,” according to Jensen, though a test did not come back positive.

That was more than five weeks ago, Jensen said. There have been no cases since then. Jensen said he’s working with the department of health to correct “a glitch in the system."

John Moschner, president of SenCare Management, has been posting regular video updates on the Grand Villa website. He announced in a Sunday video that the New Port Richey location was listed in error.

“Please be assured that we have not had any residents of staff at Grand Villa of New Port Richey test positive for the COVID-19 virus," he said.

Staff writer Jay Cridlin contributed to this report.

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