Nursing home resident had COVID-19, family learns after his death

More families of people who lived in long-term care before they died from COVID-19 want to know why the spread of the disease was kept a secret until it was too late.

Richard Elzerman was one of 11 residents who died after contracting COVID-19 while living at Braden River Rehabilitation Center in Manatee County. The outbreak at Braden River and another outbreak at Riviera Palms Rehabilitation Center, which are managed by the same company, account for nearly two dozen deaths and more than 100 COVID-19 cases.

The family of Richard Elzerman found out how he died after his death certificate was finalized.

They have filed a complaint with the Agency for Health Care Administration against Braden River Rehabilitation Center.

Family members said they knew their father's death would come soon, but they never thought he would die from COVID-19.

MORE: Family did not know nursing home was overrun with COVID-19 cases until it was too late

“He was congested, he sounded very tired,” Elzerman’s daughter, Holly Turner told FOX 13 News over the phone.

At 91, Elzerman had fought to live for five months at Braden River Rehabilitation Center. His heart and his kidneys were failing.

Then the state put requirements in place for long-term care facilities to close their doors to outside visitors, putting a stop to Holly’s daily visits with her dad.

“I got a call from the nursing home saying dad was not doing well," Holly recalled.

For the first time in weeks, Holly Turner was allowed in to see her dad. It would be the last time.

She said, “I could come and visit him. I would need to wear a mask, gloves and gown to protect himself.”

A nurse told her he was suffering from pneumonia and remained on oxygen.

PREVIOUS: Two nursing homes account for 23 deaths from COVID-19 in Manatee County

“He had congestive heart failure, he had kidney failure. He wasn’t really getting out of bed, pneumonia wasn’t that big of a surprise to us,” Holly said.

But the big surprise came with her father's death certificate, which listed complications from coronavirus infection as the cause of death. 

“When the funeral home called me, I was floored. I was sure it was an error, as the medical director had filled out the death certificate,” she said.

Turner says the nursing home said it never tested her dad for COVID-19, but she believes it was the nursing home that put it on the death certificate.

“I was devastated. I felt, number one, I was possibly exposed and I came home to my family. I also felt a little bit betrayed because that was not mentioned in any of our conversations with the nursing home,” Holly said.

And then there was a letter from the nursing home addressed to her father, notifying him someone at the home had COVID-19. It arrived days after his death.

“I would not have given that hour up with my dad for anything, but yeah, I would have liked to have known,” Holly said. “Some of the hands-on staff there were phenomenal with my dad. They really cared about him, he cared about them. They had a good relationship and I would hate to think any of them have become ill.”

“I feel very concerned for other families. Not everybody was there for end-of-life. A lot of those people have a lot of years to live and that is a tragedy.”

Holly has been tested and was negative for COVID-19.

Southern Healthcare Management, LLC oversees the center. A representative from the company told FOX 13 News they cannot provide information on specific cases, but said whenever a resident tests positive for COVID-19, the center would call a family representative in addition to sending a letter.

"Our centers worked with the Department of Health and continuously communicated with and received guidance from DOH regarding our center initiating the testing. Our deepest condolences go out to all the families that have lost a loved one during this pandemic," the representative said.

It is still not clear if Elzerman was tested before his death. The letter his family received only said a resident at the facility had tested positive.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


Map of known COVID-19 cases:

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map