Now two local nursing home facilities are reporting more than 50 positive cases of COVID-19 among their residents.
Large influxes of COVID-19 have occurred at North Woods Village and Kokomo Healthcare Center. Both facilities provided data relating to infections at their nursing homes, and, as of Monday, 53 residents had tested positive for the virus at North Woods Village. Kokomo Healthcare Center logged 50 positive cases in residents.
According to Howard County Public Health Officer Dr. Donald Zent, many of these cases remain asymptomatic, but 11 residents and/or employees of these two facilities have died, causing concern for those whose family members reside at the facilities.
“It just takes time. The small communities, the more less-populated communities, are more likely to show up with these outbreaks in the nursing homes later instead of earlier,” said Zent. “It is a problem. It is a major concern. We have to remember the problem isn’t necessarily the nursing home; it’s the COVID-19 virus and how insidious it is in being transmitted and carried on people that aren’t even symptomatic. They pass a questionnaire. Their temperature is normal. It may be a staff person who thinks they are completely healthy, and that’s how it probably gets in nursing homes unless it was already there and we didn’t recognize it.”
Last week, American Senior Communities (ASC), the operator of North Woods Village, made the move to publicly disclose data relating to COVID-19 infections among its residents and employees. Similarly, a representative of Kokomo Healthcare Center’s CommuniCare Health Services provided data upon request.
The latest data available for North Woods Village, released on Monday, indicated there were 53 active cases of COVID-19 in patients, with five new cases in the last 72 hours. Nine deaths had been recorded at the facility among residents and employees. Two residents were listed as recovered. Additionally, five employees were self-isolating at home.
“Residents in nursing and assisted living facilities are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus,” said ASC CEO Donna Kelsey. “Until a vaccine is developed, the only way a person can avoid contracting the coronavirus is through social distancing and sheltering in place.
“However, residents in nursing facilities cannot engage in social distancing or shelter in place. Every day, by necessity, staff and other partners must come into a nursing facility to provide care to residents and to operate the facility. Even with methodical screening prior to each shift or visit, there is an inherent risk of introducing the coronavirus because so many people continue to pass the virus asymptomatically.”
At Kokomo Healthcare Center, CHS General Counsel Frederick Stratmann said 50 residents had tested positive last Friday, in addition to one employee. At the time, 31 residents remained in isolation after contracting the virus, and 16 residents had recovered from the virus. According to Stratmann, many of the residents showed no symptoms of the virus, with 36 being asymptomatic. Two residents died at the local nursing home due to COVID-19.
“Throughout Indiana we have had hundreds of residents who have recovered, despite all of the other news. There’s care going on,” said Stratmann. “We’re being aggressive and proactive in testing and treating, and we’re working hard because they aren’t numbers to us. They are people we get to know on a daily basis. We feel the same defeats as they do as this whole situation progresses and we’re doing our very best to care for them.”
While such information now is being shared by these facilities, the lack of data earlier on proved to be a point of frustration for some. One woman whose father resided at North Woods Village, who wished to only be identified as JR, said when the first positive cases cropped up in April at the local facility, she feared for her father’s health as he possessed multiple attributes that made him at risk for COVID-19.
“There’s days where I’m nearly in tears (because) I’m so frustrated. I want to scream at somebody,” said JR.
Zent said many who test positive for the virus, even the elderly, remain asymptomatic as well.
“It’s also important to know that a lot of these people, even in the nursing home residents, are asymptomatic,” said Zent. “They end up having someone who has symptoms. They test a lot of people in the ward they are in. And a lot of those people will turn positive, but they aren’t even sick. They’re not showing any symptoms.”
Both facilities have remained on lockdown during the pandemic, ceasing visitation, and both have implemented various CDC recommendations including isolation protocols for residents. But, none the less, the virus made its way into the facilities. Local officials and facility representatives postulated that infections occurred after employees contracted COVID-19, and it spread through residents and staff.
At Kokomo HealthCare Center, Stratmann said isolation protocols are in place that are staged depending upon the status of the resident. An action plan first was implemented at the facility on March 3. Residents needing treatment for the virus have been put on anti-coagulants to reduce the risk of blood clots and strokes, common issues that arise due to the virus.
Additionally, they’ve utilized “proning,” which is the strategic positioning of residents to prevent the buildup of fluid on lung tissue.
Both facilities also have implemented testing and screening practices. Stratmann said his organization hoped to test each employee weekly but would likely need aid from the federal government in order to undertake the practice.
“There’s a movement going around now, which we are in favor of, which is testing staff on a weekly basis until there is a vaccine of some sort or until the disease is eradicated somehow,” said Stratmann. “We could use help with that because, nationally, it’s a $400 million annual hit to test every nursing home employee every week.”
For those with family in nursing homes during the pandemic, JR said she believed long-term care facilities should publicly disclose data relating to resident and employee infections. More so, she said she was in favor of the state releasing such information on a wider scale relating to individual nursing homes.
“I think the people have a right to know. This is the way I look at it. I’m not saying they need to release names or personal information, but I do think they should release the numbers,” said JR.