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Families say state’s new nursing home measures “too late” for their loved ones

State plans to test every single skilled nursing worker
Posted at 12:27 PM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-15 19:59:49-04

CRAWFORDSVILLE — New numbers released Monday show 1,082 people have died in long-term care facilities in Indiana, making up 48% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

Some families say the state’s actions to address the impact on nursing homes are too little, too late to save their loved ones.

Charles England, Martha McCullough and Everette Brown were all residents of Ben Hur Health and Rehab in Crawfordsville— the only long-term care facility in Montgomery County with COVID-19 cases or deaths.

Their families contacted Call 6 Investigates after a former Ben Hur worker quit out of concern for her health and later learned she had COVID-19.

PREVIOUS | Nursing home worker shares concerns after quitting, testing positive for COVID-19

According to Ben Hur’s website, 13 employees are currently COVID positive or have recovered from the virus and 19 residents have died.

  • Martha McCullough died May 16 at the age of 77.
  • Carol Bowles died May 18 at the age of 73.
  • Everette Brown Sr., an Air Force veteran, died May 21 at the age of 92.
  • Charles England died May 22 at the age of 76.

Families who spoke with RTV6 feel guilty, given statewide visitor restrictions have kept them away from long-term care facilities since March.

Mary Johnson lost her mom, Martha McCullough, to COVID-19 and Mary feels responsible.

“It’s horrible,” said Mary Johnson. “I was her caretaker, and I promised my father to take care of her. I couldn’t do that because I wasn’t allowed in there from March on.”

Janice Ford lost her brother, Charles England, to COVID-19.

He was in Ben Hur because of weakness in his muscles, which made it difficult for him to walk.

Janice wants to know how the virus spread in the facility.

"I want the place ran like it should be ran,” said Ford. “I don't want people to die. My family means a lot to me. I'm sure everyone's family means a lot to them."

Joyce Brown lost one of her family members, Everette Brown Sr., an Air Force veteran.

"You can't see for yourself what condition your family member is in,” said Brown. “The whole thing is frustrating. We have many other nursing homes in Crawfordsville and not one other nursing home has a case of COVID, has a death of COVID."

Families want answers on whether proper infection control procedures were used when the virus was first found at Ben Hur.

"How did my mom get it when no visitors was allowed in her rooms,” said Johnson. “My mom wasn't taken out to a hospital. It had to be done by staff."

Soon after their family member’s deaths, the state made a big announcement on June 3— nursing homes can now do outdoor visits with some residents and their families.

Also, the state launched a plan to test every single nursing home worker in the state by the beginning of July.

PREVIOUS | Indiana to test all nursing home workers for COVID

Dr. Dan Rusyniak, Chief Medical Officer of the State’s Family and Social Services Administration said they’re taking steps now because there’s been a steady decline in cases and deaths from across the state, and the state has recently increased its testing capacity.

"We are now in a position to do widespread testing of nursing home staff,” said Dr. Rusyniak. “This will be a very important step in preventing future outbreaks. We know the majority of COVID-19 outbreaks occur when a staff member contracts the virus and unknowingly brings it into the facility."

Families wonder if these steps— testing all nursing home staff and outdoor visitation—could have saved their loved ones had action been taken sooner.

“Well, that’s great but that doesn’t help the people that have died, not at all,” said Johnson. “I think that should have been done in the very beginning.”

“It’s definitely too late,” said Brown. “When you’ve lost one person it’s too late.”

Some say testing of all nursing home residents is also needed.

“I think the state of Indiana should go in and check every single person,” said Johnson.

In a statement to RTV6, American Senior Communities and Health and Hospital Corporation which operates Ben Hur, emphasized they’ve been testing many workers and residents.

“We are deeply saddened whenever a resident or staff member becomes infected, and we grieve for each resident who has passed away,” read the statement. “As residents begin to recover, we remain steadfast in protecting and continuing to serve them.”

FULL STATEMENT FROM ASC AND HHC

“Uniquely and early on, the Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County (HHC) and American Senior Communities (ASC) created its own testing strike team, which includes nurses from ASC and Eskenazi Health. The organizations are collaborating with the IU Health Lab, which is providing test kits and rapidly reading the results. This strategy enhances HHC’s and ASC’s ability to quickly identify positive cases and implement isolation protocols. Early detection of the virus is imperative to reducing the exposure risk to other residents and to staff.

As additional testing became available, HHC and ASC began – and continue – to test 100% of residents in any facilities where there is reason to suspect a resident or staff member may be COVID-19 positive. HHC and ASC are testing 100% of residents in facilities located in high-risk regions, even those with no known COVID-19 contact. This includes Marion County, where 100% of our residents have been tested.

HHC and ASC plan to test all employees during the month of June in accordance with direction from the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). The HHC/ASC COVID-19 Strike Team has performed approximately 8,000 resident COVID-19 tests.

From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, HHC and ASC have sought to be ahead of the curve, implementing safety and infection control procedures prior to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and ISDH. HHC and ASC continue to go beyond CDC and ISDH recommendations for clinical care:

• Testing 100% of all residents in facilities where there is reason to believe a resident or staff member has contracted the virus.
• Testing 100% of residents in high-risk facilities where there are no known cases of the virus.
• Restricting visitors at all facilities.
• Retesting residents who were COVID-19 positive to ensure proper care.
• Screening each resident for illness daily.
• Screening and taking the temperature of all staff, clinical partners, vendors and all others as they enter our communities.
• Requiring all staff to wear PPE at all times.
• Cancellation of large group activities.
• Exercising best practices for infection control.
• Quarantining and cohorting residents and staff who are COVID-19 positive.
• Requiring all residents to wear masks if they are able to tolerate it while outside of their room, and in their room when a staff member or visitor is present.

The situation remains serious. We are deeply saddened whenever a resident or staff member becomes infected, and we grieve for each resident who has passed away. As residents begin to recover, we remain steadfast in protecting and continuing to serve them. Right now, the majority of our communities are free of COVID-19, and we are deeply committed to doing our very best to keep this virus out of those facilities. We are also grateful for our dedicated employees and are in awe of the deep commitment and compassion they bring every day. They are truly heroes.”

The families of Charles England, Martha McCullough and Everette Brown hope the new testing and visitation measures save the lives of others—as they continue to grieve for their loved ones who were taken by COVID-19.

You can see the full list of nursing home COVID-19 data compiled by the RTV6 team in the document below. This list will be continuously updated as new numbers are provided