The Journal Gazette
Saturday, May 23, 2020 1:00 am

Website reveals scope of virus cases, deaths at nursing homes


Since the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, 65 Allen County residents have died of COVID-19.

State statistics show the majority of those deaths – 86.1% – happened to people older than 70. People older than 80 accounted for 61.5% of those deaths.

Those ages are typical of nursing home residents. But state officials until recently have declined to tell the public the number of cases and deaths in such facilities – and the officials still won't say which counties or facilities have COVID-19 cases or deaths or how many. Officials cite laws regarding the privacy of both patients and facilities.

But statistics on websites located by The Journal Gazette show nearly half of Allen County's 65 deaths, 32, have come from two facilities.

Those details, posted on websites for relatives of residents in some of the county's facilities, show how much of the disease's overall death toll has fallen on nursing homes.

State health department statistics from May 18, the most recent available, show 732 deaths in 129 long-term care facilities statewide. That's about 45% of all Hoosier deaths from the disease.

State health officials publicly report only aggregate data weekly, a measure that has been in place for less than a month. In Allen County, health officials also have declined to detail nursing home cases or deaths. 

But a company website shows American Senior Communities' Bethlehem Woods at 4430 Ellsdale Drive in Fort Wayne, with 23 deaths of residents and staff and 84 cases as of May 18. Lutheran Life Villages' The Village at Anthony in Fort Wayne in the 6600 and 6700 blocks of South Anthony Boulevard shows 9 deaths reported as of April 29. 

Lutheran Life has another facility, The Village at Kendallville, where six deaths were reported as of April 29 and another on May 14. The facility reported at least 53 cases as of May 21, including one employee. It is unclear as to the time frame when the cases occurred.

The state in early May began requiring nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities to notify designated relatives of COVID-19 cases and deaths daily. If they ask, facilities must say how many residents have died and/or tested positive. 

Alex Kiefer, president and chief executive officer of Lutheran Life Villages, would not confirm the fatality number on the family website.

“We're following what was communicated by the state,” he said. “I don't want to confirm that number today.”

The family website says it has stopped reporting total deaths. However, it has posted a long list of actions taken to protect residents.

They include testing all residents at Kendallville and hiring a nurse practitioner to aid with cases, opening a special recovery unit called The Cove at Anthony, and inviting state “strike teams” to both locations.

Asked if public reporting would help get the facilities more assistance from the community, Kiefer said they already had “incredible support.” Local “people (are) bringing in snacks” for staff and helping obtain personal protective equipment.

No new deaths were reported this week at the Anthony facility.

Noble County Health Officer Dr. Terry Gaff on Friday reported all of the county's 20 deaths were traced to two nursing home facilities, Lutheran Life's in Kendallville and Sacred Heart Home in Avilla, where five people had died as of the end of April.

He would not provide further details, but said both had “large” outbreaks. 

American Senior Communities, which with its management affiliate Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County is the largest owner-operator of nursing homes in Indiana, this week released data from each of the companies' facilities.

The disclosures came after pressure from families and media reports, including that the lack of coronavirus information prevented one family from taking a loved one who later died out of a facility.

“ASC and HHC are now making this information available on their websites so that family members and care partners have another means to access this data.

“Each facility maintains a dashboard on its web page with comprehensive data along with important information about COVID-19 and clinical measures implemented to protect residents,” the companies said in a news release.

The release says the company is testing all residents where there has been a positive COVID-19 case or who are at high-risk because of spread in nearby areas. Residents who had been positive are retested. Residents and staff are screened daily for symptoms, and all staff, clinical partners, vendors and all others are screened and have their temperatures taken as they enter facilities.

Facilities also are quarantining and “cohorting,” or separating, staff and residents who test positive, the release adds, noting some of the companies' practices go beyond state and federal recommendations.

American Senior Communities has six other facilities in Fort Wayne – Canterbury Nursing and Rehabilitation, Coventry Meadows, Glenbrook, Heritage Park and Heritage Commons and Summit City – with no deaths.

Nine cases were reported at Canterbury. ASC reports no deaths or cases at Betz Nursing Home in Auburn and Markle Health & Rehab.

Last week, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it would begin releasing required COVID-19 reporting data at the end of the month, including data by facility.

In April, Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said without elaborating that the county already had cases in long-term-care facilities.

Older people and those with chronic health conditions are “the most vulnerable to severe cases and bad outcomes with this disease,” she said.

This week, Meagan Hubartt, department spokeswoman, said in an email that people in long-term-care facilities “are not the only people dying from COVID-19.”

“But because of their communal living situation, age, and underlying health issues it makes them more at risk to death from the disease than the general public,” she added.

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