POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – More than half of Polk County’s coronavirus-related deaths are linked to the Opis Highlands Lake Center in Lakeland, medical examiner’s records show.

Of the 25 COVID-19 deaths detailed by the Polk County Medical Examiner, 18 deaths involved people who were residents at the Lakeland nursing home.


  • Florida is reporting 85,926 cases and 3,061 deaths
  • Florida in Phase Two of reopening
  • Cases have spiked in past week, Gov. DeSantis says due to increased testing

Highlands Lake Center ranks fourth in nursing home coronavirus deaths in the state of Florida, according to a Department of Health report updated weekly.

The Opis website shows 68 residents and 15 team members have tested positive for COVID-19 since April 1.

The first person to die from Opis Highlands Lake Center was an 84-year-old former cardiologist on April 3, according to the medical examiner’s office.

On May 2, Mercedes Quintero, 84, died at Lakeland Regional Health.

She was a resident at Highlands Lake Center who tested positive for COVID-19.

“I asked her if she loved me and she said ‘Si.’ That was the last words that I heard from her,” said her daughter, Ana Eason, through tears.

Mercedes Quintero
Courtesy: Ana Eason

Quintero was the ultimate matriarch.

She loved cooking. She loved desserts. But most of all, she loved her family.

“She showed us how to love unconditionally,” said Eason.

Last month, Quintero came down with pneumonia.

Eason tells 8 On Your Side she had to beg for a COVID-19 test.

“I was like ‘Are you sure it’s not COVID’? And they’re like ‘No no no, she doesn’t have a fever.’ I’m like ‘well you do know there’s people out there that are asymptomatic. They don’t have any symptoms.’ and they were like, ‘No no no,’” recalled Eason.

Eason eventually tested positive for COVID-19 and was transferred to Lakeland Regional Health.

(8 On Your Side has shared stories of other family members of residents who have died. Click here for that coverage.)

Eason believes the deaths could have been prevented with more transparency and stricter guidelines.

“Communication was not there. I found out through the media about the first positive test at the location. I should have found out through them,” said Eason. “They didn’t take the extra steps they should have.”

In a statement, Opis Highlands Lake Center spokesperson Everton Spencer wrote:

“Sadly, Highlands Lake Center did have several customers pass away, and while it’s unconfirmed whether other chronic health issues besides COVID-19 were a contributing factor, we still mourn their loss. The customers entrusted to our care are like our own family, and all of us are saddened by how this virus is impacting our community. Our thoughts are with their families and friends, along with the loved ones of all our customers. We know this is a challenging time for them, and we continue to stay in communication with customers and their families on a regular basis.

COVID-19 has been found to pose a particular risk to the elderly. That’s why since the beginning of this crisis, we have taken every precaution that we were able to as recommended by the CDC, by our state and federal regulators and the Department of Health. We’ve restricted all non-essential visitors, we are actively screening staff and any other essential visitors and outside healthcare providers who enter out center, including taking their temperatures. Our center is providing available PPE to our team members and we have strong infection control protocols in place to ensure everyone’s safety.

We have and will continue to remain vigilant until the threat of this virus passes, as the safety of our customers and team members is always our highest priority. As always, Highlands Lake Center and our team members are dedicated to providing the highest standards of care to our customers in a warm, respectful, dignified and safe environment.”