Sean Higgins is a well-known Department of Veteran Affairs whistleblower, but for the last year he has been dealing with a different form of corruption.
Higgins told the Daily Caller that his mother, Cleo Higgins, 96, has been the victim of elder abuse at the Riviera Nursing Home in Holly Hills, Florida. She is part of a significant number of elders in the U.S. taken advantage of by nursing homes. He said his mother suffered abuse including: not being fed properly, not being bathed, not being clothed, having an unclean room, and not having her diaper changed. (RELATED: Nursing Homes Underreport Cases Of Potential Elder Abuse, Studies Find)
Targie Rhim has known the elder Higgins for over fifty years and said she visited her twice in the beginning of 2019. “I could smell the urine when I first walked into the facility,” Rhim said of her first visit. She said the smell was even more significant upon entering Cleo Higgins’ room.
She found Higgins laying in her bed covered in urine, because she hadn’t been changed. “No one should live like this,” she said. She said her conditions were “even worse” during her second visit.
Sean Higgins said he first became aware his mother was mistreated around the same time she called him and said she wasn’t being fed. He said that she has been at the Riviera for approximately a year and a half before, but if she was being mistreated then, he found no evidence.
On July 8, 2019, Sean Higgins sent an email to Riviera management complaining of similar issues. “Dr. Higgins was asleep. Her apartment was dark. Her breakfast tray was in the sitting room. As I approached her bedroom I saw a wet depends, slippers, nightgown and bed-pads on the floor … all wet. The bed was wet, and Dr Higgins didn’t have on any clothes,” Higgins said in the email. “When Alexia [the woman Sean had to hire because the place claimed he still needed to giver her extra care, even though it is an assisted living facility] awoke her she was shivering from being wet and cold. Alexia got her up, cleaned and got her dressed and fed. Dr Higgins told Alexia she removed her clothes herself and tossed the wet diapers and bed pads on the floor.” (RELATED: Robbing Grandma And Grandpa: Reports Of Financial Abuse Of The Elderly Skyrocketed In The Past 5 Years)
Sean Higgins also provided The Daily Caller with a photo of one of his mom’s treating physicians, Dr. Evan Carratt, who was posing with his mother while she slept. Dr. Carratt did not respond to a message for comment left at his office.
The Riviera has also been cited by the Florida Department of Health, which found several issues during an April 2019 inspection. “Observed live termite and termite wings throughout the facility at time of inspection,” that health department inspection stated, “Observed water damaged ceiling tiles in rooms 316, 311, 101, and 102.” The Florida Department of Health did not respond to an email for comment.
Amie Young, the Chief of Investigations at the Florida Department of Children and Family, said a complaint was filed with their office earlier this year, but also noted that another agency handles those complaints. “I believe we did receive one complaint this past summer against the Riviera Nursing home,” Young said, “Nursing homes are regulated by the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) and any investigations of the nursing homes themselves would be conducted by AHCA or its OIG (most state agencies have their own OIG).” The AHCA did not respond to an email for comment.
The Riviera has a five star rating, the highest rating given by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A voicemail and email left with Jennifer Harris, the executive director of the Riviera, was left unreturned.
Cleo Higgins spent much of her career as an educator at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. In 2015, her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, honored her by announcing the creation of a scholarship in her name. She retired from Bethune-Cookman in 1988, and on December 17, 1988, then Daytona Beach Mayor Lawrence Kelly proclaimed it Cleo Higgins Day.
Sean Higgins said he finally moved his mother to a new nursing home over the summer.
In July 2019, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing entitled “Promoting Elder Justice: A Call to Reform.” Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is the chair of the committee and during his opening statement he noted, “Congress has a key role to play in ensuring the protection of our nation’s seniors as about one in ten Americans age sixty and older will fall victim to elder abuse each year. Many older Americans reside in assisted care facilities, nursing homes, and other group home arrangements; its critical that these care facilities and staff not only follow the law but provide the type of care that they want their own family members to receive.” (RELATED: KLEIN: Senate Judiciary Finds A Steady Leader In Chuck Grassley)
Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden is the ranking member on the committee and during his opening statement, he noted, “Instances of physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuse in nursing homes, appears to be on the rise.”
At the Senate Finance Committee, there was a bi-partisan effort to root out elder abuse. Wyden, during his opening statement during the July hearing, “The federal nursing home rating system does not accurately reflect the prevalence of that abuse.”