Heard on Sundial: ‘Families Shouldn’t Feel Like Their Loved Ones Are Dispensable’

Apr 23, 2020

On this Thursday April 23rd episode of Sundial. 

 

The state of Florida last weekend released the names of more than 300 elder care facilities across the state with active coronavirus cases. 

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The release came after our news partner the Miami Herald and multiple other news agencies filed a lawsuit demanding the release of a complete list of all elder care facilities with positive Coronavirus cases.  

The Herald found the released list is incomplete and missing crucial information. It’s been difficult for journalists and family members alike to get information about elder care facilities during this pandemic. 

“I have to call and hope that the phone is answered,” says Joan Hipler, a Hollywood registered nurse who has a mom in an assisted living facility. “The staff are busy and their first responsibility is the residents. So I may not get through and may not talk to her.”

WLRN Sundial assembled a panel to better understand the challenges facing nursing facilities and keeping families informed. Guests: Carol Marbin Miller, deputy investigations editor for the Miami Herald; Jorge Zamanillo, executive director of HistoryMiami, whose mother Rosa Zamanillo died of coronavirus a couple weeks ago at the Residential Plaza living facility in Miami; and Hipler, whose mother lives at Hollywood Five Star Premier Residences, where there are multiple positive coronavirus cases. 

This conversation has been edited lightly for clarity.

Joan Hipler's mother Amy Caccioppoli on her 92nd birthday on March 8, 2020.
Credit Joan Hipler / Courtesy

WLRN: Carol, what do we know about these facilities and what they're doing and testing? Are they testing?

 

MARBIN MILLER: Many assume that some of the problems we're looking at now, the lack of information when we need it, the quick spread of this thing in congregate facilities is to some extent a function of Florida's reputation. ... The reality of Florida as a state that enjoys very little regulation and in very, very little enforcement of the regulations that we have.

 

Some of the things that are going on in these facilities are very good. Staffers are taking the temperatures of folks who come in to report for their shifts, they’re screening employees as they report for work, asking questions to determine whether they've done anything or been anywhere that might lead them at high risk. But some of these policies have been on the books for a long time. If and if you look at the facilities that are the worst performers, you'll see that there's some connection between that and they’re being deficient in it, among other things.

 

Joan, what has communication been like for you and your mother. 

I used to go every day of the week unless I was on vacation or something like that. And then I got a private aide to be with her. Like Jorge, I still have a really good relationship with the nurse and the nurses aides. And the administration. I saw the care that she was getting which was excellent, being a nurse I know what good care looks like. Besides dementia, she has heart failure so she’s on oxygen all the time. The lockdown happened, of course they did what they had to do, I understand that. But it is certainly a dramatic change, because she was used to seeing me daily and now she’s not. She has a wonderful aide and she Facetimes with me five days a week. So I can at least see mom and see if she’s declining and so forth.  

Jorge, what do you think has to change in the disclosure of information?

Jorge Zamanillo and his mother Rosa Zamanillo, before her death a few weeks ago from COVID-19.
Credit Jorge Zamanillo / Courtesy

Let the families know what's really going on. Look at the test. The problem, the testing and residential plaza has probably tested every resident in every staff member. The problem with that is the minute they leave the next day, you could be positive. You could track the virus when the worker, the nurse goes home and comes back to work the next day and a test to see if they have a fever upon entering the workplace, they're not going to cut it. So that's an issue. But just honesty. Just be honest and full disclosure and not make families feel like they're a relative, like their loved ones are dispensable. That's the most important thing. And that's what's coming across right now from the state and from other people in charge.

WLRN producer Alejandra Martinez contributed to this episode of Sundial. 

WLRN made multiple efforts to have a representative speak on behalf of nursing homes for this conversation. None were available but we received several written statements. Below are written excerpts of those statements.  

Veronica Catoe, CEO of the Florida Assisted Living Association, about transparency for healthcare workers:

We agree that posting a list such as this is intended to provide critical information that families of residents and community members want and deserve. Releasing this information will go a long way to enhancing confidence and ensuring transparency during this health crisis.” 

We also received a statement from Kristen Knapp, communications director for the Florida Healthcare Association about their position on transparency: 

“It’s been clear since the beginning that Governor DeSantis shares our goal of protecting our state’s elders in this fight against COVID-19. All of us are working vigilantly to address the massive challenges this pandemic places on our caregivers who continue to remain focused on keeping their residents safe. Since the beginning, we have supported transparency to our residents, families and other stakeholders because we know that knowledge is critical during any state of emergency. Our centers have been following the guidance of the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration to report a confirmed case, and informing families about developing situations in their centers is a critical step in that process.”

We also put in a request to speak with AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew and she was unavailable for this conversation. The offer stands for these guests to join our program at a later date.