A Department of Veteran Affairs whistleblower whose mother is in a Florida nursing home has firsthand knowledge of elderly abuse in such a facility.

The facility has a five-star rating, but at least one resident suffered the kind of neglect that should never happen.


Dr. Cleo Higgins was a well-known educator at Bethune-Cookman University, Daytona Beach, Florida. She is now 96 years old and has been a resident of the Riviera Nursing Home in Holly Hills, Florida, for more than a year and a half. In the summer of 2019, she called her son, Sean, to tell him that the staff was not feeding her. This was the first indication he had that his mother was suffering any kind of mistreatment. Sean Higgins has gained a reputation as a whistleblower in the Department of Veteran Affairs. He knows how to spot issues related to the treatment of seniors, but his mother’s alarming phone call hit close to home.

Remarks from a visitor

A woman who has known Dr. Higgins for more than 50 years visited her at the nursing home. She said that the smell of urine was very strong in the facility and especially strong in Cleo Higgins’ room. The visitor found her friend “covered in urine” because no one had changed her diaper. Higgins had removed her wet clothes herself and had thrown them on the floor, which left her cold and shivering.

About the nursing home

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services gave The Rivera a five-star rating, but the Florida Department of Health cited the nursing home for several issues found during an April 2019 inspection. Those issues included water damage in the ceiling tiles of various rooms. The inspectors also saw “live termites and termite wings” throughout the nursing home. Other Florida agencies have also received complaints about The Riviera.

What to do

Family members must visit their loved ones in nursing homes frequently and be diligent in looking for signs of abuse and neglect. Anyone who suspects that mistreatment exists should explore the legal options available. Nursing home residents are extremely vulnerable, but families can engage the help of experienced and compassionate advocates to expose ill-treatment and protect the rights of the elderly.