‘They deserve a full life just like everybody else’ Concern for elderly population grows as Florida reopens


PALMETTO, Fla. (WFLA) – Manatee County continues leading the Tampa Bay area in COVID-19 deaths. As of Thursday afternoon, the Florida Department of Health reports 55 deaths in the county.

At least 23 deaths are tied to two nursing homes owned by Southern Healthcare Management — Braden River Rehabilitation Center in Bradenton and Riviera Palms Rehabilitation Center in Palmetto.

State data shows 73 positive cases at the Palmetto location and 64 at the Bradenton center as of this week. County health officials believe staff traveling between the two locations spread the virus to residents.

Beaches and businesses in Manatee County are days away from reopening. Some feel it’s time, while others fear it is too soon.

Tom Bickerton’s 84-year-old father contracted the virus at Riviera Palms Rehabilitation Center where he has lived for the last four years. He first tested positive about two and a half weeks ago and continues testing positive this week.

“I think they know they have a difficult situation on their hands and they are trying their best. We have no complaints at all with what they are trying to do,” said Bickerton about the Palmetto nursing home.

The family remains cautiously optimistic. “My dad is in a very vulnerable category given that he has 84, he is on kidney dialysis and has respiratory problems, but he has a strong will to live and he is a very determined individual,” said Bickerton.

The 84-year-old is in isolation at the rehab center and has kept in close contact with family as usual.

“His fever has been pretty low. He has a pretty bad cough but he is not on a ventilator or respirator,” said Bickerton.

Bickerton is used to regularly taking trips from New York to visit his father in Florida. “It’s heartbreaking that we can’t be there with him. We normally would be,” said Bickerton.

Bickerton has seen the worst of coronavirus living in New York City. He’s worried about what it’s going to look like in Florida as restrictions loosen over the next several weeks.

“As the social distancing laws are relaxed, as the beaches are opened, as the malls are opened, as life goes back to normal, this disease is not going to go away just because government officials say we are going to open things back up,” said Bickerton. “Those people who work in my fathers rehabilitation center are going to be interacting in that public with that disease. There are a large number of staff members in these nursing homes that are infected; they bring that infection into the nursing homes where vulnerable people are dying because of that,” he continued.

He is urging Floridians to think of our most vulnerable population when making decisions. He asks for people to cherish their lives and lives of others. “These people in nursing homes are our loved ones and they deserve a full life just like everybody else does,” said Bickerton.

“My best advice is be patient with this. Care about life and that life is not just your own; care about the multitudes of lives that are impacted by bad decisions or unwise decisions that people make to get back out into public sooner than they should,” said Bickerton.


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