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Families say they were left in the dark about outbreak in St. Pete elder-care facility

They say they couldn't get answers or information about their loves ones from Apollo Health and Rehabilitation Center, where 50 residents were diagnosed with COVID-19.

ST. PETERSBURG — Michael Casbar called Apollo Health and Rehabilitation Center two to three times a week to talk to his 88-year-old mother. It was the only way they could communicate after the state prohibited visitors to elder-care facilities on March 14 to protect them from COVID-19.

When he called her on June 22, Gloria Casbar told him the grim news: She had tested positive.

It was 2 p.m. She tested positive at 7 a.m. Why didn’t the facility call him immediately?

“We should’ve been informed by the staff as soon as it happened,” said the 53-year-old son.

Three families told the Tampa Bay Times that while the coronavirus spread through Apollo Health, the staff repeatedly failed to keep them informed and neglected their loved ones.

The 99-bed facility has had 50 residents diagnosed with the virus, according to state data, along with 12 employees. Of the infected, at least nine have died.

State regulators have also been critical of the facility at 1000 24th St. N. The Agency for Healthcare Administration issued a 32-page report after a May 15 inspection listing deficiencies such as employees who failed to wash their hands and wear required personal protective equipment.

The home is operated by Greystone Health, which issued this response: “Greystone takes very seriously any circumstance where there may be a complaint, and we act to resolve issues immediately for residents,” said a statement from spokesperson Karen Marotta.

Related: Florida breaks nationwide record with 15,300 coronavirus cases
Apollo Health and Rehabilitation Center resident Gloria Casbar, 88, with her son, Michael Casbar, 53. She tested positive for COVID-19. The son has complained about how the staff has communicated with the family and cared for his mother. [ Courtesy of Michael Casbar ]

• • •

The three daughters of Doreen Ryan say they’ve had their own struggles with the way Apollo Health has treated their 85-year-old mother, Doreen Ryan.

Adele Gilmore, 59, who said her mother tested positive for the coronavirus on June 24 and still lives there, said she has spent weeks trying to learn about her mother’s condition and obtain her medical records.

“When you call these people, you do not get an answer,” Gilmore wrote in an email to the Times. “They’re always in a meeting, they’re phone rings and rings, they say they’re going to call back and you never hear back from them.”

Gilmore said she used to visit her mother at least once a day before the visitor ban. Back then, Gilmore said she noticed that employees rarely cleaned her mom’s room adequately. The daughter said she often found the floor and the rolling table her mother ate on stained with food and soda.

In February, shortly after her mother moved into the facility, Gilmore said she saw fecal matter smeared on the floor next to her mom’s wheelchair. She asked the staff to clean it up multiple times.

When she asked an employee where the mop was, she said she was told that “the maintenance person had left so the mop is locked up.”

Finally, she said she did it herself using a disinfectant wipe from her purse.

Related: Families of residents who died of COVID-19 sue Freedom Square retirement community
Doreen Ryan, 85, who tested positive for COVID-19, holding one of the teddy bears her daughters got her. She is a residents of Apollo Health and Rehabilitation Center, and her daughters complain about how the staff has communicated with them and cared for their mother. [ Courtesy of Adele Gilmore ]

In early March, Gilmore said she realized something amiss with her mother’s hair: She had lice. The daughter and a staffer applied lice treatment that evening.

The youngest sister, Andrea Ryan, 56, said when she visited her mom, her mouth was swollen and causing her pain. She said she asked an employee — who appeared “exhausted and overworked” — what happened to her mom’s mouth.

“I don’t know,” is the response Ryan said she got from the staffer. “I don’t know what her mouth is supposed to look like.”

The employee said she was “too busy” to help.

The daughter suspected her mother had an abscessed tooth. But she said it took two days before a doctor diagnosed her mother and prescribed antibiotics.

In conversations she had with nursing home staff while visiting her mom, Gilmore said that she found that morale among employees to be extremely low.

“They all say they’re overworked, underpaid and don’t want to be in the nursing business anymore,” Gilmore said.

She worries how her mom is faring in the facility in the nearly fourth months since they’ve seen her. Without family at their mother’s side, the daughter fears no one is advocating for her, checking on her health, cleaning her space — a critical concern since her mother was diagnosed with COVID-19 on June 24.

Middle sister Cara Ryan, 62, called her mother on July 4. She said mom sounded “very sad” because she no longer had her personal belongings, including her purse, walker and teddy bear — a gift her four daughters sent for Easter.

The next morning, Ryan said she called the facility to learn more about her mother’s health. Seven times, she said, she was put on hold or transferred to someone who never picked up.

When Gilmore got a hold of the nursing director, she was told that when residents are moved inside the facility their belongings don’t go with them.

The daughters still don’t know if their mother got her teddy bear back.

• • •

Goodren Adams, 79, has lived in Apollo Health since December. She misses her husband and daughter dearly. She has not contracted the virus, and said she was recently moved to a part of the facility housing those who have tested negative.

But her new bed was broken, she said, and could not be lowered. Thus Adams said she cannot move from her wheelchair to the bed. She said she spent eight nights sleeping in her wheelchair, waiting for the facility to replace her bed.

“I feel pissed off, neglected and not taken care of,” she said.

Related: A Pinellas memory care unit treated COVID-19 patients on-site. More than half were infected.
Goodren Adams, right, with her siblings. The 79-year-old is a resident at Apollo Health and Rehabilitation Center and complained about how the staff has cared for her. [ Courtesy of Janice Nicholas ]

Adams said she also recently went nine days without showering because no employees offered to help. She said she has had to wait up to two hours to use the bathroom — that’s the longest it has taken for someone to respond after she hit the call button.

Then she said she had to wait 10 minutes on the toilet for someone to come help move her back to her bed.

Then there are the cockroaches, Adams said, " “from bee-size to bat-size.”

She said staff members appear to be gentler and more attentive when her husband and daughter could visit. But that was a long time ago.

“Staff would always be more pleasant when family members were there to see,” Adams said. “When they come in (now), they just throw the stuff down and leave.”

The Times sent a list of the complaints detailed in this report to Greystone Health. The spokeswoman said many of them have been addressed and the Apollo Health care team is “working directly with the families on these as needed.”

The facility’s head nurse called Adams’ daughter Wednesday night and arranged a video call with Ryan’s four daughters Thursday to discuss their concerns. Both families said it was the first time a staffer contacted them.

Casbar’s family, however, said they have not heard from the facility.

• • •

Michael Casbar said his mother’s health rapidly deteriorated after she was diagnosed on June 22 with the coronavirus.

She started experiencing nausea and dizziness and lost her sense of smell and taste. She was put on oxygen support the next day.

Apollo Health’s treatment also deteriorated, he said. His mother was moved to a space set aside to treat COVID-19 patients. She had a history of falling, but Casbar said her bed had no rails. He asked the staff to install them. He was told they “will take care of it.”

That never happened. His mother fell out of bed again, the son said, and Apollo Health’s staff called the family at midnight on June 25 to tell them she was being rushed to the emergency room.

Related: As outbreak hits Brandon nursing home, Congress investigates owner
Gloria Casbar, 88, center, surrounded by her family. She is a resident at Apollo Health and Rehabilitation Center who tested positive for COVID-19. Her family has complained about how the staff there has communicated with them and cared for her. [ Courtesy of Michael Casbar ]

His mother was taken to St. Anthony’s Hospital, where the son said the family learned what else they say the staff failed to share with them.

She was also diagnosed with double pneumonia, a scarring and inflammation of the lungs that can be brought on by COVID-19, and anemia, the son said. She is also experiencing congestive heart failure and stage four kidney failure.

After consulting doctors, the Casbars said they decided Wednesday afternoon to discontinue treatment and begin comfort care for their mother.

“Due to the lockdown initiated at Apollo, no one has been able to see my mom since March — the thought of her passing alone having not seen her family in months is heartbreaking,” the son wrote in a text to the Times last week.

“If only Apollo had been more diligent, maybe things would be different.”

Gloria Casbar died late Saturday night.

• • •

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