At least 21 dead, including nurse, at Freedom Square

At least 20 residents and one staff member of Freedom Square of Seminole have died from COVID-19, the facility’s executive director said May 4.

SEMINOLE — COVID-19 has continued to take a deadly toll on two Pinellas County nursing facilities.

At least 20 residents and one staff member of Freedom Square of Seminole have died from COVID-19, the facility’s executive director said May 4. At St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor, at least eight of its residents have died, according to medical examiner’s reports.

According to a weekly report by the Florida Department of Health that compiles the number of deaths at Florida nursing homes, the outbreak at Freedom Square would make it the deadliest in the state.

“To date, we’ve unfortunately lost 20 residents and one team member as a result of this novel coronavirus,” Freedom Square Executive Director Michael Mason wrote in an email to Tampa Bay Newspapers. “Our deepest condolences go to the family and loved ones of the individuals who have passed away; we are deeply saddened by the lives taken by this virus.”

Mason went on to say that 42 employees have tested positive, 553 are negative and 40 tests are pending. He added that anyone who has tested positive has been transferred to area hospitals, therefore there are no current positive cases on the facility’s large campus and there are no residents or patients who have pending results.

A separate DOH report that monitors the number of positive cases at nursing homes, shows that at least 69 patients and residents of the Freedom Square campus had been infected with the novel coronavirus and transferred to area hospitals.

On April 21, Mason said a total of 54 residents and patients had tested positive at the building at the source of the outbreak, Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation. In response to the rapid spread of the disease, officials evacuated at least 95 patients of the building April 17 to area hospitals and facilities.

The facility’s first resident to test positive was April 9, and the first to die as a result of the coronavirus was a 74-year-old man on April 11.

Mason said Freedom Square’s priority continues to be the health and safety of its residents and staff.

“Mitigating the spread of the virus relies on strict processes and guidelines that are followed by the entire community, which we are adhering to each and every day,” he said. “This includes our continued partnership with the National Guard who assisted us with testing on April 24. We are also proactively monitoring all of our residents who are not showing symptoms for any signs of the virus and are providing daily wellness checks throughout our community.”

St. Mark Village

St. Mark Village has faced a similar outbreak since the virus entered the Palm Harbor facility through its skilled nursing home April 10, according to CEO Doug Fresh.

In a video posted May 1 on the facility’s website, Fresh said 23 residents have tested positive and are at either AdventHealth or Mease Countryside.

He added that seven residents had died. However, according to reports acquired by TBN from the District Six Medical Examiner’s office, at least eight residents had died as of May 4. Previous reports show that at least 10 employees had also been infected.

“The virus got in,” Fresh said in the video. “We were told when it does, it’s going to affect that group of residents that you have, and it did. But I go to bed every night thinking of the family members of those seven. Not that their loved one is gone, but that they didn’t get to say goodbye.”

Fresh said the number of positive cases seems to have plateaued, and he intended to ramp up testing efforts by bringing in AdventHealth’s mobile testing unit May 4. He said the goal is to get another negative test from the 25 residents currently in the skilled nursing home and to test all of the skilled nursing home staff again.

“Once we get those two negatives from that, we could possibly entertain bringing back our residents that have gone out to the hospital,” he said.

He said infected residents at the hospitals also must have two negative tests before they can return. And when they return it will be to a safe environment.

“By the end of the week, we expect to have our 80-bed skilled nursing home totally disinfected,” he said.