U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on Wednesday called for an investigation into “horrific mismanagement” at Freedom Square retirement complex in Seminole, days after a Tampa Bay Times report revealed failures that contributed to one of the deadliest coronavirus outbreaks in Pinellas County.
“The article details outrageous abuses that must be investigated and prosecuted if confirmed,” Crist wrote in letters to Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.
The former governor, a Democrat, requested a second investigation into “inadequate” regulation and oversight of Florida’s long-term care facilities, which, he argued, led to “preventable deaths.”
DeSantis’ office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday morning. The Republican governor has defended his administration’s response and lifted many visitor restrictions at elder care centers this fall. “We have the tools that we need. We’ve got the PPE. We’ve got the testing capability,” DeSantis said.
On Tuesday, he said the state hopes to vaccinate every health care worker and long-term care resident by the end of the month.
In Pinellas County, more than 2 out of 3 coronavirus deaths are connected to nursing homes and assisted-living centers. At a nursing home at Freedom Square, employees begged managers in April for greater protection from the pandemic. Weeks later, half of the facility’s residents were infected, the Times reported. Forty people eventually died in the outbreak.
Tamara Blackman’s mother, a nurse at Freedom Square, died from the virus.
“It took them too long to do anything,” she said. “For them to say, ‘You know what? Okay, I think we have a problem.’ "
Freedom Square Executive Director Michael Mason declined to answer reporters’ questions, because of “an ongoing investigation,” but did not explain who was investigating. “Our residents’ and staff’s health is, and has always been, our No. 1 priority,” Mason said.
Crist previously raised the alarm about unsafe working conditions and pressed for a stronger state response to protect long-term care facilities during the pandemic. In June, he asked the governor’s office for a detailed COVID-19 testing plan for senior care facilities.
Florida didn’t launch a universal testing plan until July 7. By then, about 2,700 Floridians at long-term care facilities had died from the virus.
That number passed more than 7,500 this week.