Osceola County

Family finds cards sent to woman in local nursing home during pandemic unopened after her death, say staff lied about reading them to her

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Joan Middaugh lost her husband of 60 years just before the nursing home where she lives in St. Cloud locked down due to COVID-19. First, condolence cards filled her mailbox. Then family members mailed everything from notes to freshly baked cookies to connect with Middaugh, who was in the early stages of dementia, while they had to be physically distant.

After her death, her family found out they were gifts she never got. Notes of love and encouragement were still sealed in their envelopes.

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Middaugh’s niece, Robin Bush, said after failed FaceTime calls and visits through her room window, the family decided letters and cards were the best mode to communicate after their visits three times a week were halted due to the virus.

“We went to the nursing home and tried to talk to her through a window. She didn’t do well. She was crying,” Bush said. “It was just confusing for her.”

Bush said staff at Plantation Bay Rehabilitation Center reassured the family that she was enjoying being read the cards and that they were displaying them in her room.

“We were told by the nursing home weekly when we got reports that she was doing well, that she was eating. She was enjoying her cards and letters and treats,” Bush said. “That they were opening them up, they were reading them to her and they were putting them on her windowsill.”

Middaugh died after a brief illness on July 24. In her five boxes of personal belongings, Bush said upward of 50 envelopes addressed to Middaugh were still sealed. Homemade cookies were still wrapped up and uneaten. That means 4 1/2 months of communication was silenced.

READ: 45% of COVID-19 deaths in Florida reported in nursing homes, data shows

“Almost 4 1/2 months, she had no communication and no understanding of why her family wasn’t coming, where we were,” Bush said. “And we were told repeatedly that she was enjoying these care packages.”

Bush said she and her mother, Middaugh’s twin sister, cried as they went through the boxes.

“Four and a half months with nobody telling her they loved her. Nobody,” Bush said.

Bush said the risk manager of the nursing home apologized to her after her aunt’s death. Channel 9 contacted the nursing home about the incident and the facility declined to comment.

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“Needless to say, we feel very hurt for her, 4 1/2 months of isolation, not understanding what happened to her family, and to be deceived by Plantation Bay that their core value is compassion,” Bush said. “And we felt she got no compassion.”

Bush said she hopes people will pay attention to her aunt’s story and learn to get proof from what nursing home facility workers are telling them.

“You can’t believe just because you think they’re a wonderful organization. If they’re telling you things are OK, ask for proof,” Bush said. “If I could do it again, I would say, ‘Please send me some pictures of you reading to her her cards. Show me a picture of her windowsill where she has her cards and pictures of her family.’”

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Bush hopes her aunt died knowing she was loved and with warm memories of her 60 years with her husband. But she can’t help but imagine what she was feeling the last four months of her life not knowing where her family had gone.

“I think she was scared, and I think she was afraid and very confused,” Bush said.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.