Tampa Bay senior home fined $10,500 for failing to isolate residents with COVID-19

The facility allowed infected residents with memory loss to wander the unit where they lived, putting others at risk, state health officials say. The company denies it.
The state and an assisted living facility in Trinity settled a case with a fine.
The state and an assisted living facility in Trinity settled a case with a fine. [ Times (1999) ]
Published July 13, 2021|Updated July 13, 2021

TRINITY — A Tampa Bay senior home has been fined $10,500 after residents with COVID-19 were allowed to wander around the memory care unit where they lived, exposing other seniors to infection.

The Watermark at Trinity, an assisted living facility that houses seniors needing a range of care, failed to isolate three residents who were infected with the virus, a state health inspector found during a visit in February.

The facility also failed to conduct a mandated background check on one of its staffers, who provided direct care to residents and had access to their belongings for several months prior to the inspection.

In doing so, the 117-bed facility failed “to provide a safe a decent living environment to residents,” according to state health agency records released on July 6, and “placed all residents in the memory care unit at imminent risk.”

The fee comes as a result of a settlement between the business and the state health care administration agency, who originally moved to revoke Watermark’s license to operate an assisted living facility in addition to charging a $10,500 financial penalty. The state dismissed the license revocation action as a result of the agreement.

Watermark denies the validity of the allegations made by the Florida health agency in their original complaint regarding the inspection, according to the settlement.

“At Watermark Retirement Communities, the health and safety of our residents is our top priority,” said Vicki Doyle, spokesperson for Watermark Retirement Communities, the company that oversees the home, in an emailed statement. “The Watermark at Trinity is in compliance with AHCA and continues to serve our residents with our commitment to their well-being. The dedicated team at The Watermark at Trinity conducts rigorous infection control practices established by Watermark per CDC guidelines and conducts ongoing training for all associates to keep our residents safe. "

When an inspector arrived to the Watermark facility on February 15, the administrator on site could not definitively say how many residents were COVID-19 positive — her answer changed a few times over the course of the visit, according to state health records.

The Florida Agency for Health Care AdDoors to three COVID-19 positive residents’ rooms were open, the inspector, who was with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, found upon entering the memory care unit.

All of them suffered from either Alzheimer’s or dementia, and their open rooms were “alongside the open doors of COVID-19 negative residents,” according to the settlement.

Throughout the pandemic, long-term care facilities have struggled to help residents who have memory impairments understand the risks and requirements involved in preventing the spread of a deadly, highly infectious disease. These residents may not comprehend or recall why they need to wear a mask or maintain social distancing, creating added risk of viral spread.

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The three seniors had mobility, according to the settlement, and “could leave when they wanted.” In fact, the state inspector alleged, “anyone could walk in or out of those rooms.”

One of the COVID-19 positive residents, who has Alzheimer’s, was seen wandering down the hall of the memory unit without a mask throughout the morning and afternoon.

Staff told the inspector that the infected resident was “always” out of her room, sometimes going as far as the unit’s dining room. However, a staff member said they had not been told to shut the doors to COVID-19-positive resident’s rooms.

The administrator indicated that she expected residents on the memory care unit who were COVID-19 positive would “stay in their rooms if they were told to do so,” state records show.

The inspector reported used personal protective equipment, including gloves and gowns, in an unsealed hazardous waste bin in the hallway outside the room of another resident with COVID-19.

Additionally, a staff member who was hired in November 2020 as a direct care aide and “continued to interact with residents and their property” from that time on was never given a required background screening, according to the records.

The Trinity facility agreed to pay $10,500 in admin fees. The home will also ensure staff undergo infection control training upon hiring and semi-annually for the next two years, and receive one-time federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services training on caring for residents with memory loss during a pandemic.