Rita Thomas was a victim of COVID-19, but she never had the disease.
The vivacious and outgoing 95-year-old, who lived independently until last year and celebrated her most recent birthday in February with friends at a Pasco County diner, willed herself to die two weeks ago because she could no longer handle the pandemic-imposed isolation.
“She said to me: ‘Linda. I’ve had a good life. I am ready to die. I don’t want to live this way anymore. I stopped eating,’ ’’ her daughter Linda Gardner said, recalling the conversation she had with her mother in August. Weeks later, her mother was hospitalized for complications from malnutrition.
For the last 18 months Thomas lived at Rosecastle of Zephyrhills Assisted Living & Memory Care, an 85-bed long-term care community near Tampa. She filled her days with routine: dining out at restaurants, playing bingo and cards, going for daily walks and visiting every weekend with her daughter, family and friends.
But on March 13, when Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Agency for Health Care Administration ordered that visits be banned from nursing homes and assisted living facilities in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all that daily activity stopped. Although the order allowed homes to make exceptions for certain family members to visit their relatives, most homes, including Rosecastle, resisted.
At first, Rita’s family accepted it. The coronavirus that was ravaging the globe preyed on seniors like Rita, who had recovered from a stroke and minor surgery but whose weakened immune system made her vulnerable to infection.
“Sometimes she’d say something like: ‘I just don’t understand. Why are they doing this to us?’ ” recalled Nan Thomas, Rita’s younger daughter. “We kept hoping they were going to open the doors and I would be able to bring her to my house again, and we’d go out to eat, get her strong.”
Instead, as the rest of the state opened up, the lockdown and isolation continued at Florida’s elder-care homes.
“I truly hold the governor and his medical advisers responsible for my mother’s quick decline and her pending death,’’ Thomas wrote to the Herald/Times, days after bringing her mother home to die rather than leaving her in a hospital.
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