As outbreak hits Brandon nursing home, Congress investigates owner

Nine residents have died at Consulate Health Care of Brandon. Congress wants answers from the company that runs it.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, speaks during a May news conference on Capitol Hill in May. Clyburn is leading the House coronavirus subcommittee investigating Consulate Health Care.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, speaks during a May news conference on Capitol Hill in May. Clyburn is leading the House coronavirus subcommittee investigating Consulate Health Care. [ MANUEL BALCE CENETA | AP ]
Published June 21, 2020|Updated June 21, 2020

One of the nursing home operators being investigated by Congress for its handling of the coronavirus is experiencing major outbreaks at its Florida nursing homes — and a deadly outbreak in the Tampa Bay area.

Consulate Health Care is one of the five companies that received a letter from House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who chairs the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, demanding records about how prepared it was for COVID-19 and how it is caring for infected residents.

In Florida, Consulate Health Care-affiliated homes had no less than 65 coronavirus-related deaths and 235 confirmed cases of residents testing positive for COVID-19.

At least 95 of its employees have also become infected, according to state records.

One of the worst outbreaks was at Consulate Health Care of Brandon, where at least nine residents have died. No less than 36 seniors and 18 employees contracted the disease at the facility at 701 Victoria St.

Related: Florida closing in on 100,000 coronavirus infections after adding 3,494 cases Sunday

Clyburn’s June 16 letter stated that “over one-third of America’s more than 115,000 coronavirus deaths” were among residents and employees of long-term care facilities, arguing that the lack of “adequate testing, personal protective equipment, and infection control measures” contributed to the crisis.

It also accused the companies of poor business practices — understaffing, low pay, no paid leave and “lack of transparency in federal funding” — which magnified the issue.

Neither Consulate Health Care nor Consulate Health Care of Brandon responded to multiple phone calls and messages left for comment.

Nursing homes are hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission, clumping together the nation’s most vulnerable and easily infected population. In May, a Tampa Bay Times analysis found up to that point during the pandemic, 83 percent of Floridians who died from coronavirus were 65 years of age or older, and 43 percent of deaths were tied to long-term care facilities.

“The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis is examining the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on residents and workers of nursing homes, including at facilities owned by your company,” Clyburn wrote in his request for records to the companies, and to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that helps oversee nursing homes.

Related: Tampa’s mask order went into effect Friday. Here’s what you need to know

The other companies under investigation are Genesis HealthCare, Life Care Centers of America, SavaSeniorCare and Ensign. Together, they run more than 850 facilities and are responsible for 80,000 residents in 40 states, according to Politico. And they’re all experiencing major outbreaks at facilities across the nation.

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Consulate Health Care also runs other Tampa Bay facilities that have experienced outbreaks and fatalities:

Bardmoor Oaks Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Largo had at least two deaths. State records show 18 residents and one employee have tested positive.

Another Consulate facility in Hillsborough County, Brandon Health and Rehabilitation Center, also recently reported that a resident died, according to the state.

Life Care Center of America’s Florida locations has reported 18 coronavirus-related deaths, according to state records.

“Resident safety is a top priority for all 21 of our Life Care Centers of America facilities in Florida,” said a statement from Aaron Preston, vice president of Life Care Centers of America’s Southeast Division. “We have been and will continue to monitor and follow all CMS and CDC guidelines as well as work in close coordination with state and local health departments and the Florida Health Care Association concerning COVID-19.”

Genesis Health Care’s Bay Tree Center in Pinellas County had four infected residents, state records show, including one who passed away. Two employees also tested positive. The company’s four other nursing homes in Florida had at least one infected resident or employee, including Sunset Point in Clearwater, according to records.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those impacted by COVID-19 during this difficult time, especially the family of the one resident that passed away,” Genesis HealthCare spokesperson Lori Mayer said in an emailed statement. “We are still evaluating the request we received today from the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. We support efforts to better understand the virus, and how we as a nation and as a provider can improve care of our nation’s seniors.”

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