‘Unacceptable’: Displaced Good Samaritan residents pack town hall meeting demanding answers

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — The sterile conference room inside the old retail center in the strip mall was set up with about 30 chairs in several neat little rows. Organizers anticipated a small audience, attentively listening to them explain what resources were being provided and underutilized.


By the time the Good Samaritan Village town hall began, hundreds of people had packed into the room, taking every available chair — including ones designated for the presenters — standing against all five walls and spilling into the hallway.

The room was so crowded that 50 seniors stayed on a bus hired to drive them over, listening to a separate batch of presenters deliver the same messaging.

“The five of us [commissioners] all agreed that there has to be something done,” Osceola County Commissioner Peggy Choudhry said to cheers, before handing the microphone off to a list of lawyers and nonprofit leaders.

READ: Good Samaritan Village residents face uncertain future as evacuation order continues

That was the most agreeable the audience felt all night. As one speaker bled into the next, the atmosphere became noticeably chillier and testier. Several people stood up and left, audibly complaining that the information being given wasn’t what they hoped to hear.

Then, a man in a red shirt stood up.

“May I say something?” one man asked, not all that politely. “The seniors have things they want to say to you.”

READ: Attorneys join fray as Good Samaritan residents asked to sign liability waivers

Ferrer said the help from FEMA and the county wasn’t enough. Weeks of frustration, anger, sorrow and a cornucopia of other emotions began to pour out from one person after another. The people who lost everything, who felt like they were left to drown in a river of uncertainty, and who felt betrayed by an organization that billed itself as Christian, but since September had reportedly acted as if anything but.

“The way you disrespect these people is unacceptable,” Daniel Ferrer fumed. “Do the job. That’s all we asking is do the job.”

Ferrer and most others wanted to hear from the one organization that was not represented at the town hall: Good Samaritan. So far, residents said, they had been all but inaccessible, only appearing during moments designed to protect the organization, such as asking residents to sign liability waivers when terminating their leases.

READ: Photos: Hurricane Ian flooding, storm damage at Good Samaritan Village

“Don’t tell us or threaten us that we have to leave,” Ferrer said. “All we want to know is who’s going to hold Good Samaritan accountable for what they do?”

Osceola County officials said communication from the organization was less than desirable, which is why they were doing their best to step in. Choudhry said all options continued to be on the table to holding the nonprofit, a division of Sanford Health, accountable while protecting the senior population.

“I’ve heard from residents that they weren’t even told there could be a flooding problem in their residence where they’re living,” she said, describing an occurrence many residents have repeated to WFTV. “We have been talking to Good Samaritan about the repairs that they have to meet, the requirements that they have to do and all the things necessary in order to protect our residents.”

READ: ‘We’re at the tipping point.’ Family of evacuated seniors desperately searching for next step

Sanford Health officials previously said they have been working with FEMA and had done their best to warn residents of the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“All independent living residents are provided with comprehensive information about flood and hurricane preparation and are encouraged to obtain appropriate renters’ insurance to cover such occurrences,” Good Samaritan Vice President of Operations Aimee Middleton wrote in a statement last week.

Good Samaritan tenants and everyone else interviewed over the past week who weren’t connected to the nonprofit rejected that claim.

READ: ‘We lost everything’: 55+ Osceola County community told they won’t return home anytime soon

After the county’s evacuation order was lifted on Monday, Middleton wrote that independent living facility residents whose homes were spared from flooding and damage would be welcomed back to campus, and residents needing more intensive care would be relocated back to Kissimmee from Volusia County later in the week.

However, the homes that were flooded will not be rebuilt, putting many of the seniors on the brink of homelessness, many without much to their name.

“I need a place to stay,” Joanne Rayburn said. “[The hotel] just informed me today that we only have until November 4th, so we got to get out and find another place.”

READ: Hurricane Ian: Good Samaritan helps locate 84-year-old woman stranded from rising waters

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