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

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — By all measures, Felecia Bridges said it was a good situation: an apartment in Good Samaritan that her elderly parents could call their own, 10 minutes away from kids and grandkids to help look after them.


For three years, her parents enjoyed their lives as transplants from Illinois as their health declined. Bridges’ father entered hospice care for the final year but never lost his will to live as the family assisted his wife in caring for him.

That happy situation stopped suddenly as Hurricane Ian approached. With the meteorologists calling for upwards of 20 inches of rain, Good Samaritan sent out a memo: evacuate the parents, just in case.

Then, the nearby creek swallowed the complex for the second time in five years.

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“It’s hard to watch your parents go through that,” Bridges said. “We’re trying as best as we can to help them, but we don’t have the answers either.”

Since that evacuation, Bridges said her family has had to overcome one hurdle after the next by themselves. An initial FEMA check paid for a hospital bed and other supplies to make her father’s life in her sister’s house comfortable. Their hospice team still checks in daily to assist Bridges’ mother, who has been overwhelmed by the sudden change of pace.

However, success at tackling the present has been met by a struggle to overcome the future. Bridges’ parents need a new place to live, as their daughters both have families and jobs to look after. That’s where Bridges said she needs help that Good Samaritan has been unable to give.

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“It feels like we’re just at we’re at the tipping point,” she described. “Do something help in some type of way, as opposed to just saying, ‘Don’t come back here, you guys figure it out.’”

So far, she said, Good Samaritan has been directing inquiries to the county and FEMA, neither of which can help her find a home for her parents. She and her sister have been trying, touring apartments and realizing the price of a two-bedroom exceeds her parents’ fixed income budget.

She called Eyewitness News in hopes someone else knew of an affordable place for seniors to rent from.

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In its latest update Wednesday afternoon, Good Samaritan said it was waiting on the county’s evacuation order to be lifted to allow tenants of units unaffected by the flooding or high winds to move back in. Damage assessments are also underway throughout the complex.

“Calls to independent living residents regarding the status of their unit are underway and will continue until assessments are complete,” administrators wrote, adding some patients were being cared for at their DeLand facility.

However, the future of Good Samaritan is also up in the air. Last week, County Manager Don Fisher told commissioners he was in discussion with the county attorney about how to protect the vulnerable population moving forward, from issuing warnings to anyone moving in to seizing the property and shuttering Good Samaritan through eminent domain to prevent future damage.

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“There’s really a public detriment to allowing this recurrence of particularly a feeble part of our population to continue to have that exposure,” he said.

Bridges said she was aware of the property’s history when she moved her parents there but figured the post-Irma flooding was a one-off. Now that she’s determined to see her parents out, she wants officials to reconsider the approach they’re using, especially for their residents who don’t have support networks as strong as her family’s.

“As a senior living facility, I just think that there should have been some more resources,” she said. “Some things that you would have provided specifically for your residents, that would alleviate some of the pressures that some of these seniors -- my parents included --are dealing with.”

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