29 Highlands Lake Residents Test Positive for COVID-19

Twenty-nine residents at Opis Highlands Lake Center on Lakeland Highlands Road have tested positive for COVID-19 and are being treated at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, the hospital announced this afternoon.

On Saturday, 35 residents of the nursing home who had either tested positive or showed symptoms were taken by ambulance from Highlands Lake to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, the hospital said in a news release today.

Tests are pending for the other six residents who were taken to the hospital, the hospital said.

“After ongoing communications with the leadership of Opis Highlands Lake Center throughout the last week, it became apparent to us and to their administrators that immediate hospital-level intervention was necessary for these residents,” LRH President and CEO Elaine C. Thompson said in a prepared statement. “This will allow Highlands Lake Center to focus on the safety and well-being of the other residents in their care and hopefully will slow the COVID-19 outbreak at this facility.”

Highlands Lake was one of three Lakeland long-term-care cares identified as having COVID-19 cases in a list issued by the Florida Department of Health on Saturday.

Thirty-nine cases and five deaths have been reported at Polk County elder-care facilities, according to today’s 10 a.m. update from the state Health Department.

At least three of the five deaths at Polk long-term-care facilities have taken place at Highlands Lakes, The Ledger has reported; two of those deaths were listed in a report from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, the newspaper said, and a third was confirmed by a family member.

The 33813 ZIP Code, where Highlands Lake is located, has had 40 confirmed COVID-19 cases, by far the highest in Lakeland. The next highest ZIP code is 33805, with 20, a number that may be influenced by the presence of Lakeland Regional Health.

The five long-term-care facilities in Polk identified by the Health Department as having COVID-19 cases are:

The list, updated daily, and has shown no new Polk County facilities since Saturday.

The document includes no information on the number of cases at the facilities, when they were reported, whether there were any deaths at the facilities or whether the cases represent residents or staff.

A note on the Health Department’s main COVID-19 page says; “Listed facilities may or may not currently have positive cases of COVID-19 in residents or staff.”

Highlands Lake Center has 179 beds, according to several online sources.

Here is a news release issued by Lakeland Regional Health on Monday afternoon:

Lakeland, FL – On Saturday morning, April 18, 2020, Lakeland Regional Health took over the medical care of more than 35 residents at Opis Highlands Lake Center in South Lakeland. These residents had either tested positive for COVID-19 or were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as high fever, and were transferred by Polk County Emergency Medical Services to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center on Saturday morning. As of Saturday night, 29 had tested positive for COVID-19 and test results are pending on the others.

“After ongoing communications with the leadership of Opis Highlands Lake Center throughout the last week, it became apparent to us and to their administrators that immediate hospital-level intervention was necessary for these residents,” said Elaine C. Thompson, PhD, FACHE, Lakeland Regional Health President and CEO. “This will allow Highlands Lake Center to focus on the safety and well-being of the other residents in their care and hopefully will slow the COVID-19 outbreak at this facility. These frail patients are now receiving high-level emergency care from our skilled providers.”

“We are so grateful for the exceptional care our customers are receiving at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center during this pandemic,” said Everton Spencer, Administrator for Opis Highlands Lake Center.

All families of affected residents have been contacted by Highlands Lake Center and Lakeland Regional Health.

“The families of these patients are very appreciative and have been in regular, ongoing communication with our team,” said Timothy J. Regan, MD, President, Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center/Chief Medical Officer, Lakeland Regional Health. “Our clinicians are diligently following protocol established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to care for and treat these new patients.”

“We recognize this can be a time of concern for those who have loved ones in nursing homes,” said Francisco Chebly, MD, Executive Medical Director, Lakeland Regional Health Physician Group. “As one of the leading healthcare providers in our region, we have long-established relationships with the skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities in our area and remain committed to ensuring that proper medical care is provided to residents of these facilities who are testing positive for COVID-19 or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.”

No other statements will be issued at this time.