Saturday, August 15, 2020

A Quarter of the Residents at This Nursing Home Died From COVID-19. Families Want Answers.

Scott Morrow visits his mother, Claudette Stasik, at the Bria of Geneva nursing home in the western suburbs of Chicago. Since mid-April, 75 of the nursing home’s 91 residents and 37 of its 120 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus. (Anjali Pinto for ProPublica)
Within three weeks, the Bria of Geneva nursing home went from one case of COVID-19 to two dozen residents dead and at least 75 infected. Delayed testing and gaps in nursing home data obscures the true toll of the crisis.

by Jodi S. Cohen and Haru Coryne

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Standing outside a window at the Bria of Geneva nursing home one morning last week, 2-year-old Rosa Morrow tried to get her grandmother’s attention. She held her palm to the screen. She blew kisses. She counted slowly, “1 … 2 … 3 …”

On the other side, 71-year-old Claudette Stasik, who has tested positive for COVID-19, sat in her reclining wheelchair, her eyes closed and her arms crossed against her chest, her gray hair braided to one side. A nurse, wearing gloves, gently rubbed her hand.

“Can you say hi? Wake up, honey. You have visitors.”

Separated by the glass — and by a devastating outbreak of the coronavirus at this facility in the western suburbs of Chicago — Stasik’s son Scott and his family can only attempt to communicate with her through a FaceTime call.

“Hi, Mom. We’re over here. Can you look over this way?” her son said. Stasik opened her eyes, but only for a moment.

It’s been a brutal few weeks at Bria of Geneva, which has experienced one of the largest and deadliest outbreaks of the coronavirus in the state, according to a ProPublica Illinois analysis of Illinois Department of Public Health data.

Since mid-April, 75 of the nursing home’s 91 residents and 37 of its 120 workers have tested positive for the virus. Twenty-four residents have died from COVID-19, the most recent on Monday, according to Bria of Geneva and the coroner’s office in Kane County, where the facility is located.

While other Illinois nursing homes may have seen larger overall numbers of cases and deaths, almost none have experienced an outbreak on the scale of the one here, with more than two-thirds of the residents infected with the virus and one-fourth killed by it. The situation at Bria of Geneva illustrates the price of insufficient and delayed testing and how a lag in public reporting of cases and deaths in nursing homes obscured the breadth of a crisis that has disproportionately hit the state’s vulnerable elderly population.

The first resident at Bria of Geneva tested positive April 17. At the time, Illinois public health officials had instructed nursing homes that they did not need to test everyone when there were positive cases. That guidance changed soon after, when state officials acknowledged that more testing was needed in nursing homes to identify asymptomatic residents and staff members and prevent large outbreaks. Still, it took another week for Bria to obtain enough supplies to do widespread testing.

State public health officials first released coronavirus case data on nursing homes April 19. It showed no cases at Bria of Geneva, even though the outbreak was underway. In some of the Public Health Department’s weekly updates since, the number of deaths has been undercounted or becomes outdated almost as soon as it’s released, according to a comparison of state data with a tally from the Kane County coroner’s office.

Some family members have blamed Bria officials for being unprepared for the virus and for failing to communicate with them about their family members. The county coroner, who has been performing posthumous COVID-19 tests, also has expressed frustration with the handling of the outbreak.

“I don’t feel that it should be my responsibility at this point running around testing [dead] people that should have already been tested,” Coroner Rob Russell said.

Philip Branshaw, the medical director at Bria of Geneva, said that the last few weeks have been “trying” and “heartbreaking” for the medical staff, family members and residents, but that he is confident that patients are well cared for. As of this week, 43 residents and staff members have either recovered from the virus or are asymptomatic, according to the nursing home.

“I likened it to following all the rules, and when you get ready to cross the street and look at the lights and you step out and get run over by a truck,” Branshaw said.

At least 1,500 residents of Illinois nursing homes or other long-term care facilities have died from the virus — roughly half of all COVID-19 deaths in the state, although residents of such facilities make up less than 1% of Illinois’ population. The crisis is most apparent outside Cook County. In these areas, long-term care centers account for two-thirds of all deaths, according to a ProPublica Illinois analysis of data from the state Department of Public Health.

Across the state, more than 400 out of about 1,700 facilities have reported at least one positive case among residents and staff, and about 20 facilities have had 100 or more positive cases.

The 75 cases among residents at Bria of Geneva, located about an hour west of Chicago, include Claudette Stasik, who has Parkinson’s disease and dementia, her family said. Although she hasn’t displayed a high fever, cough or other symptoms of the virus, her health has declined in recent weeks as she has been confined to her room.

Patricia Yanni, 78, had lived at Bria of Geneva for eight years. “The doctor called me and said, ‘I’m not sure she will make it out of this,’” said her daughter, Kristin Davison. Yanni died several days later, on May 1.

Susan Borowiak knew her mother, Lucille James, had been tested for the virus, but nobody from the nursing home told her the results, she said. James died May 1, hours before Yanni. The death certificate listed the cause of death as COVID-19 and noted she was last seen alive in the late hours of April 30. “The hardest part is knowing there was nobody there with her,” Borowiak said.

“Somehow the virus got in there and went like wildfire,” Borowiak said. “You scratch your head over the whole thing.”

A Dire Situation

Left: Patricia Yanni had lived at Bria of Geneva for eight years. She died May 1. (Courtesy of the Yanni family); Right: Lucille James was tested for the virus but her daughter says no one from the nursing home informed her of the results. James died May 1, hours before Yanni. (Courtesy of the James family)
When Branshaw discusses the timeline of the outbreak at Bria of Geneva, he starts with the morning of April 17. That’s when the first resident, sent to Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva a day earlier, tested positive for the virus.

“We did not have any testing available to us, which unfortunately is pretty common,” Branshaw said. “Once we got our first patient, it was a landslide.”

Three more Bria of Geneva residents were admitted to Delnor that day. Others have been admitted since. Some of the first residents to test positive were transferred to a facility in Palos Hills that Bria of Geneva’s parent company, BRIA Health Services, operates. At the time, staff members thought they could contain the virus by transferring them to a coronavirus-designated wing at the Palos home.

“We were still trying to figure out the scope of the issue,” Branshaw said.

He was hamstrung, he said, because he couldn’t get testing supplies. At the direction of the Kane County Health Department, Bria of Geneva eventually obtained 10 tests from a state lab, the amount supplied to facilities at the time, county health officials said. Branshaw secured an additional 60 tests after asking, in a group chat with medical professionals, if anyone could help; top health officials from Northwestern’s Central DuPage and Delnor hospitals supplied them.

On April 23 and 24, Branshaw and a nurse practitioner went from room to room at the nursing home. “We swabbed everyone we could,” he said.

Russell, the coroner, said he was frustrated by the difficulty nursing homes had in obtaining tests. “The biggest disappointment to me is why aren’t long-term facilities testing folks? There are things they could do to mitigate the spread,” he said last month, as the outbreak was just beginning. He tested some nursing home residents after they died, both to provide answers to family members and to build a more accurate public accounting of the disease.

Only four nursing homes in Illinois had more deaths than Bria of Geneva when the state updated its count last Friday. All of them are larger facilities, with more beds and a higher average number of residents. Meadowbrook Manor of Bolingbrook has had at least 26 deaths, the most in the state, but it has three times the capacity of Bria of Geneva. Symphony of Joliet, with twice the capacity of Bria of Geneva, has had 24 deaths.

Pat Comstock, the COVID-19 response director for the Health Care Council of Illinois, an industry group that represents about 300 nursing homes, criticized state public health officials for not providing nursing homes with personal protective equipment early enough. Hospitals obtained gear directly from the state, but nursing homes initially had to go through county health departments or secure it on their own, she said.

“Not prioritizing nursing homes early enough created some challenges across the board,” she said. “At the beginning, even if facilities went out and tried to find their own test kits, the supply just wasn’t available. Help was needed from the state.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said that the state provided protective gear to all county health departments and made clear that the long-term care facilities are “priority recipients” for distribution. Kane County health officials provided masks, gloves, gowns and other gear to Bria of Geneva, a spokeswoman said.

On April 20, state officials said they would send teams to nursing homes to test residents and staff — including at facilities with no confirmed cases to try to isolate cases and avoid major outbreaks. It’s unclear how many sites they’ve visited, and the Illinois Department of Public Health did not respond to a request for that number.

“We are working to test all residents and all staff at those homes,” Pritzker said in April, adding that the state would prioritize homes serving minority populations. State officials also said staff members should be tested more regularly instead of relying on “wellness checks” that don’t detect asymptomatic carriers.

In response to questions from ProPublica Illinois, an Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman said the agency has sent 30,396 test kits to 129 long-term care facilities and Quest Diagnostics, a private company, has sent at least an additional 2,653 test kits to eight facilities.

“This effort continues daily,” IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. “Early in the pandemic when testing capacity and PPE were limited, and asymptomatic transmission was thought not to occur, isolating residents and restricting staff could be done with symptoms alone.”

Arnold said the state releases data on nursing home cases and deaths only once a week because public health officials are currently “stretched” and their focus is on responding to outbreaks to limit the spread and protect residents and workers.

“Without widespread testing and without frequent release of the data, there are undoubtedly buildings across the state that have outbreaks that we don’t even know about or don’t know as much about as others,” Comstock said.

Troubling Reports

At the front door of Bria of Geneva, it’s as if time stopped before the coronavirus arrived. A sign at the front door still reads: “Visiting hours are only a suggestion. Visitors are welcome any time.”

But no visitors have been allowed inside since mid-March. Messages in the windows signal the fight that’s going on inside: “#WeGotThis.” “#BriaStrong.” “#AllforOne.” “GenevaProud.”

BRIA Health Services operates nine facilities in Illinois, all in the Chicago area and near St. Louis. Five of them have had deaths from COVID-19.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which inspects and regulates nursing homes, gives Bria of Geneva an overall rating of four stars, which is above average, and its top rating, five stars, for the care of long-term residents. But in its most recent health inspection report, in July 2019, the federal agency cited the facility for having insufficient staff to meet residents’ needs and for some workers not using proper hygiene, among other concerns, and gave it just two stars in that report.

The report described residents waiting so long for workers to respond to them that they soiled their clothes or were essentially confined to their rooms. “We just don’t have enough staff,” one resident told inspectors last year, according to the report. “I have waited up to 2 hours to get my call light answered.”

Inspectors also watched a nursing assistant change a resident’s soiled underwear without changing her gloves. The same worker, 45 minutes later, changed another resident’s soiled underwear and then, still wearing the same pair of contaminated gloves, transferred him back to his wheelchair, wiped his face with a wet washcloth and combed his hair.

“Staff should wash their hands and change their gloves after caring for residents to prevent the spread of infection,” the report states. Inspectors concluded residents did not face immediate harm but there was potential for it. Bria of Geneva was not fined.

Some family members whose relatives died from the virus told ProPublica Illinois they were left in the dark as COVID-19 spread through the home.

Kristin Davison’s mother returned to Bria of Geneva after being treated at a hospital for COVID-19 symptoms around April 25. Davison said she spent hours repeatedly calling the nursing home to get updates, but nobody answered the phone. She FaceTimed with her mother on Wednesday, April 29. The next day, she couldn’t reach anyone at the facility.

“They either didn’t pick it up, I was hung up on, I was transferred. It took forever for someone to call me and most people would not return your calls,” Davison said. “I had to hound them. It was ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to do that.”
Bria of Geneva (Anjali Pinto for ProPublica)
On Friday evening, May 1, she got a phone call that her mother had died. “The director said, ‘We did our rounds and when we came around she was gone,’” Davison said. She called the nursing station to ask what had happened and why she wasn’t contacted. She said a nurse replied: “We are very busy here. I didn’t know she was going to pass, so I didn’t know to contact you.”

“What hurts me the most is my mother was alone,” Davison said. “I would have loved to have been able to FaceTime her one more time to say goodbye, and I didn’t have that option.”

Susan Borowiak said she’s also concerned about the care that her mother, Lucille James, received in the weeks before she died. When Borowiak last saw her mother through a window, she “looked really rough,” she said. Her hair was long and unkempt. Food was stuck on her shirt.

“The nurses we did know there, we liked. They were very caring. Once the staff all got sick, it was a rolling boil there,” she said. “I don’t think they were as prepared as they should have been and didn’t have the proper protective equipment.”

She also expressed frustration at not getting updates about her mother’s declining health after learning through a mass email from Bria of Geneva on April 24 that residents and staff had tested positive. The next evening, she emailed the nursing home with a plea for an update on her mother’s health, saying she had been trying to reach someone there for two days. “I understand it’s insane there. I’ll even take a text or email,” she wrote. “Thank you for being there and taking care of my mom.”

Administrators allowed Borowiak’s sister, Donna James, to visit her mother the night before she died, and she held her hand for the last time. As she walked into the home, James said, a resident was wheeled out on a stretcher and into an ambulance. The nursing home workers did not have face shields or medical-grade masks as they went from room to room, James said.

Lucille James died on her husband’s birthday. They had been married for 59 years. Borowiak, who had said goodbye to her mother on FaceTime, went to Bria of Geneva one last time and watched as the funeral home arrived to pick up her mother’s body, draped in purple velvet, her favorite color.

When Stasik’s family visited last week, the nurse by her bedside wore a face shield, gown, mask and gloves. But during visits before that and since, the family said, workers didn’t wear gloves and one nurse assistant wore his mask below his mouth.

“He was touching her and everything,” said Stasik’s daughter-in-law, Maria. “No wonder it is spreading so fast.”
Rosa Morrow blows kisses at her grandmother, who has tested positive for COVID-19. (Anjali Pinto for ProPublica)
Branshaw said that Bria of Geneva has been “more than adequately staffed” by nurses working longer shifts or through pulling in employees from other BRIA homes. He said the nursing staff has been “heroic” and that it has had sufficient protective gear.

Bria of Geneva resident Debbie Jacobs, who tested positive for the virus but is asymptomatic, has lost many of her friends in the past few weeks. She learns the disease has taken another life when the nursing home plays the hymn “How Great Thou Art” over the intercom to mark each death.

She said the outbreak was “like a bomb went off.” Two days after residents met with the Bria of Geneva administrator to discuss preemptive lockdown procedures, the first resident tested positive, Jacobs said. “Nobody expected it,” she said. She said workers have been supportive during the crisis and have kept residents informed through flyers and one-on-one meetings.

“I have never met a [nursing home] administrator that cares so much for her building,” Jacobs said.

Other families, including whose loved ones died, have sent letters, emails and food to thank the nurses and other workers for their courage to keep coming to work. Community members provided lunch from Panera Bread Co. and the Geneva library staff sent a letter of thanks.

Difficult Visits

During the 90 minutes that Stasik’s family visited her last week, at least two other residents had windowside visits from their families.

Mary Niceley dropped off homemade fudge and pumpkin-date bread for her 95-year-old mother, who has also tested positive for the virus but is doing well, she said.

“I love you mom,” Nicely said, during a brief windowside visit. She cried as she walked away, waving her hands in front of her eyes to try to stop the tears.

Noel Corral saw his 89-year-old father, Alfredo, who had tested positive for COVID-19 a week earlier and was moved to a room on the first floor so his family could visit. Corral tapped on the window and told his father he wasn’t alone. He told him not to worry anymore.

“Every day he is getting weaker and weaker,” Corral said, choking up. His father died the day after that visit. Nursing home workers escorted Alfredo’s body outside when the funeral home came to pick him up. “The staff did everything possible to make us feel like we were there with our dad,” he said.
Alfredo Corral’s wife, Tina, 81, visited her husband last week to say goodbye. They were married for 62 years. (Courtesy of the Corral family)
During last week’s visit, Stasik’s son shared small talk and asked questions he knew his mother, who can no longer speak or feed herself, would not answer. “I haven’t seen you in a few days? Anything new and exciting?”

“You have to eat a little more, OK?” Morrow said. “It will make you feel better.”

Stasik occasionally opened her eyes. Once, she wiggled her fingers, as if she were waving. “Grandma’s ’wake!” shouted her 2-year-old granddaughter.

The end of the visits are always the hardest. “We all love you,” Morrow said through the window.
As he drove off in his minivan, he had the same thought he has every time. “Will she be OK the next time I see her?”

Ash Ngu contributed reporting.

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A Quarter of the Residents at This Nursing Home Died From COVID-19. Families Want Answers.

Opinion: COVID-19 is exposing the inherent ableism in healthcare system

by Toni Mac Crossan

Blake Wadley
From microaggressions like ignoring those with invisible illnesses when they ask for accommodations due to their higher risk of contracting COVID-19 to outright allowing people to die without medical treatment or even nutrition, medical responses to COVID-19 have knowingly left people with disabilities behind.

Michael Hickson was a 46-year-old father of five who loved his wife, his children and answering trivia questions. Hickson, who was quadriplegic and lived in a nursing facility, was taken to St. David’s with a high temperature and trouble breathing and was admitted to the intensive care unit the next day. Three days later, his wife was told he was stable and had been moved out of the ICU—but that hospice care would be calling her shortly.

Hickson was denied nutrition and hydration through his PEG tube. Five days later, he was dead, and his body was transported to a funeral home without his wife’s knowledge.

Months prior, in February, Hickson’s wife’s temporary guardianship over her husband was temporarily taken away after Hickson’s sister filed for guardianship over him at the request of a probate court investigator in Travis County.

In the meantime, a Probate Court judge ordered Hickson’s guardianship to be handed temporarily to a non-profit serving the elderly in central Texas until a hearing could be scheduled to determine his permanent guardian—the same non-profit that moved him to the care facility where he contracted COVID-19. Without Hickson’s family’s knowledge or input, that non-profit agreed with St. David’s doctors that Hickson’s nutrition and hydration could be withheld.

St. David’s released a statement July 2 claiming that “the loss of life is tragic under any circumstances,” but since they had approval from Hickson’s court-appointed guardian, they made the “difficult decision” to discontinue invasive care for Hickson. The statement has since been deleted.

People with disabilities who live in care facilities, as Hickson did, are at a far higher risk of contracting COVID-19, and thus at a far higher risk of dying. People with intellectual disabilities in New York and Pennsylvania, for example, were more than twice as likely to get sick and die from COVID-19 compared to the rest of the population.

Group homes in which many people with intellectual disabilities reside are staffed by underpaid, under-trained and under-protected workers, some of whom were not even given N-95 masks and other personal protective equipment. Those workers, coming in and out of the group homes—largely by means of public transportation—expose the residents there to infectious disease, which can be a death sentence to those who have historically fallen through the cracks of the American healthcare system.

States are codifying their disregard for the lives of people with disabilities into their COVID-19 response plans. Alabama’s plan specifically lists people with “severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury as those who may be “poor candidates for ventilator support.”

While Texas does not yet have a specific COVID-19 plan for those dealing with disabilities, its prior guidelines for prioritizing care and many of the guidelines used by Texas hospitals, also place people with disabilities at the bottom of the list for those who deserve life-saving measures. Additionally, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made it clear he believes certain at-risk parts of the population would be willing to die to save the economy.

One of the main Republican talking points against the Affordable Care Act and other healthcare reforms has been the idea that bureaucratic “death panels” would decide who deserves to receive adequate healthcare. While these claims had absolutely no basis in reality when used in debates against those who support healthcare reforms, they strike far closer to the current state of medical care in the age of COVID-19.

Hickson was not the only person with a disability to be affected by COVID-19. This pandemic has affected people in countless ways—from those without transportation being left out of drive-up testing to deaf and blind people being left behind when medical care is carried out mainly through telemedicine.

The St. David’s Foundation, which co-owns the St. David’s HealthCare system, gave $6 million to Texas State’s St. David’s School of Nursing, earning a name on the building and an academic affiliation with the hospital group. Many Texas State students, faculty, staff and their families have disabilities or other chronic conditions that will affect their ability to return to face-to-face instruction.

While Texas State is offering its employees modifications based on medical certification of their risk, it does not appear the same accommodations are being made for students across the board; instead, it leaves their fate in the hands of the faculty teaching them.

Similarly, being a caretaker for a loved one with a disability, or working at a healthcare facility, does not seem to be a qualification for accommodations. This leaves faculty, students and staff with a choice: Get left behind or put their loved ones at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

We must be cognizant of how people with disabilities go ignored when we talk about allocating hospital resources, reopening schools and businesses and healthcare reform as a whole. Michael Hickson’s death is unacceptable. We should not sit back and allow this to happen to anyone else.

-Toni Mac Crossan is a biology graduate student

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Opinion: COVID-19 is exposing the inherent ableism in healthcare system

Tulare County woman accused of stealing millions from elderly Fresno man enters plea

By Robert Rodriguez

A Tulare County woman pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges she stole more than $5 million in stocks, securities and property from an elderly man suffering from dementia.

Christina Alvarado, 50 of Farmersville, was arrested Tuesday after more than a yearlong elder abuse investigation by the Fresno County District Attorney’s major fraud unit.

Alvarado is charged with four felonies, including theft from an elder or dependent adult, identity theft, felony forgery and a white collar crime enhancement for committing a crime in excess of $500,000.

Her alleged victim is David Silnitizer, a 75-year-old widower with dementia. Court documents allege Alvarado met Silnitizer randomly in 2016 and soon charmed her way into his life, his home and his finances. She gained legal control of his finances and was withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his bank account.

Alvarado denied any wrongdoing Thursday and pleaded with the judge to allow her out of jail. Her bail is set at $1 million.

Her attorney Ryan Yoo told Judge James Kelley that Alvarado is not a flight risk, has lived in Fresno and Tulare counties her entire life and is responsible for taking care of her father and granddaughters.

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Yoo also mentioned Alvarado has recently been diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Deputy District Attorney Douglas DiCicco said that under normal circumstances Alvarado would qualify for zero-dollar bail, but this is not a normal situation.

This is a case of long-term exploitation of a vulnerable elderly victim and it is possible that exploitation could continue if she is released,” DiCicco said. “Within the last year, she has had arrests in Kings County and Santa Barbara County and she could be a flight risk.”

Kelley also found that she has 17 failures to appear in court notices within the past two decades.

Alvarado disputed that, saying she was not a flight risk and has not missed a court date in the last 18 years.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 26. If convicted she could spend nine years and eight months in prison.

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Tulare County woman accused of stealing millions from elderly Fresno man enters plea

Friday, August 14, 2020

Put cameras in nursing homes, Lexington Co. councilman says after his mom was injured

By Bristow Marchant

Darrell Hudson knows what it’s like when a loved one gets hurt after moving into a retirement community. Now he’s hoping Lexington County Council can do something about it.

The county councilman’s mother was injured after a fall outside a Lexington assisted living facility, and his family initially couldn’t find her when they realized no one at the facility knew where she was.

Hudson is sponsoring a requirement that all nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the county place cameras at every entrance and exit to ensure Lexington County’s senior citizens will be better protected.

Having family in assisted living was “like falling off a bicycle,” said Hudson. “You learn real quick.”

Last year, Hudson’s daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren went to visit his mother in her assisted living facility shortly before Christmas, but didn’t find her in her room, and no one at the facility could tell them where she was.

The family eventually found her outside, where she had fallen and struck her head, resulting in injuries she’s still dealing with, and requiring her to move up to a more serious level of long-term care.

Hudson’s mother apparently exited through a door near her room, which Hudson says should have triggered an internal alarm but apparently did not. A report on the incident by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control found that the alarm system was operational on the door, but that no one responded to it at the time.

“Nobody was even looking for her until my daughter got there,” Hudson said. “I said, ‘Look at the cameras,’ and they said the law doesn’t require them to have cameras. I thought, ‘you’ve got to be (kidding) me.’”

Now the Lexington County councilman wants a countywide ordinance requiring cameras in long-term care facilities that he says will protect against the neglect and abuse of vulnerable senior citizens.

Hudson said the most a county ordinance would be able to do is set up cameras on the exterior of buildings at retirement homes, but he’s spoken to state Sen. Katrina Shealy about crafting a state law requiring cameras in some parts of the interior of buildings as well.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Shealy said. “I told him I’d see what he did at the county, and then I can pre-file something in December (ahead of next year’s legislative session).”

Randy Lee, president of the S.C. Health Care Association, which represents long-term nursing care outlets in state, said Wednesday he was unsure if a county government in South Carolina can set requirements for nursing homes.

“They’re regulated by federal and state governments,” Lee said. “They have licensing requirements and set all kinds of things they have to have, but I’ve never heard of a local government doing a separate ordinance.”

Lee said he hasn’t heard from members of his organization about the proposal, but notes that for-profit nursing homes in particular “have good attorneys.”

At a meeting Tuesday, Lexington County Council reviewed the proposed county rule as well as a resolution requesting action by the county’s legislative delegation. Hudson said he would research compliance requirements — whether the new rule would apply to existing senior homes, and when they might be required to comply with the ordinance.

Privacy concerns would still limit where cameras could be placed, but cameras could be installed in hallways and common areas as well, Shealy said.

This isn’t the first time legislation has been aimed at requiring cameras be placed in and around senior homes.

“I know (former) Sen. (Paul) Thurmond proposed something four years ago, but I don’t know if it got held up at the end of the year as sometimes happens at the State House or what,” Shealy said.

Hudson said he doesn’t believe privacy concerns are sufficient to oppose more surveillance of communal spaces inside nursing homes.

“They say it’s a HIPAA violation,” Hudson said, referencing a federal law that protects against disclosure of private medical information by health care providers. “Well, kiss my grits. It’s not a privacy issue if it’s in a hallway, or an eating area or at the entrance and exits.”

He also says the cost of a camera system is not an argument against the proposal.

“You can get a Ring (home security camera) for $100 a month, and it will record every dog, cat or mailman that comes near your house,” he said. “Even if there is an expense, how do you put a dollar value on what your parent is worth?”

The S.C. Assisted Living Association did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Darrell Hudson holds a picture of his mother Stella Kyzer with the injuries she sustained at her nursing home on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. “There’s no justice for my mother,” he said. He added that he hopes by passing a law requiring cameras in nursing homes others will not have to go through what his mother experienced.

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Put cameras in nursing homes, Lexington Co. councilman says after his mom was injured

Columnist warns Cuomo 'will have to answer for what he did' by making nursing homes take COVID patients

By Victor Garcia

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to be treated as a "conquering hero" despite shirking any responsibility for state nursing home deaths from coronavirus, even after a new report details how the official totals are "outright wrong," according to New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz.

Writing for The Spectator US, Markowicz noted that the Associated Press reported this week that "New York only counts residents who died on nursing home property and not those who were transported to hospitals and died there."

The report was headlined "New York’s true nursing home death toll cloaked in secrecy" and estimated that thousands more nursing home residents had died in the pandemic than the official number of a little more than 6,600.

"Why does it matter if the nursing home deaths are counted correctly?" Markowicz asked. "For one thing, if we don’t, Cuomo can shrug his shoulders and deflect blame." In the past, she noted, Cuomo had been "defiant about his mandate" that nursing homes accept coronavirus patients, deflecting blame for the deaths to "Mother Nature" and "God."

"New York was hit first, and hard, and Cuomo pretends all of his actions were the right ones," Markowicz wrote. "But the directive proves otherwise: it’s evidence of a giant mistake, one that Cuomo would rather not address."

"Any fudging of numbers is an attempt by Gov. Cuomo, and his administration, to deflect responsibility over that directive," she added. "It also allows Cuomo to continue basking in undeserved adulation. New York has suffered the brunt of coronavirus deaths, many of them needlessly, yet the governor is treated like some kind of conquering hero."

Markowicz lamented that the AP report did not have more of an impact, saying "the left" is ignoring Cuomo's shortfalls in the hope of pinning the coronavirus pandemic on President Trump.

"Sooner or later Cuomo will have to answer for what he did," Markowicz wrote. "And he won’t be able to blame ‘Mother Nature’ or ‘God’."

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Columnist warns Cuomo 'will have to answer for what he did' by making nursing homes take COVID patients

Robotic pets used to remedy loneliness in nursing homes across Alabama

by: Landon Wexler

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Those living in nursing homes have experienced more loneliness since the pandemic began.

“With social distancing comes social isolation and we know that social isolation can be especially harmful to seniors,” said Jean Brown, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Senior Services (ADSS). “Social isolation can cause physical problems and mental decline.”

Because residents’ families haven’t been able to visit out of precaution, the Alabama Department of Senior Services has invested in robotic furry family members for many of them.

Brown said their New York counterparts experimented with these and the results were impressive.
“What they found from the loneliness scale test is that those who got the robotic pet had reduced feelings of isolation, sadness and loneliness by 70%,” Brown said.

As part of their pilot program, they received a federal grant to buy the computerized companions from Joy for All, costing them less than one hundred dollars each.

They’re getting serious bark for their buck because within each robotic pet are sensors that allow it to respond to presence and touch. 
Brown says she’s seen promising results so far.

“I’ve had two reports of elderly persons who really had stopped talking. In two instances that I know of, when the person was given a robotic pet, one of them started talking a lot and telling everyone about her robotic pet. The other one after the pet had been in her lap for 30 minutes, she said pretty. And that was the first time anyone had heard her speak in a long time.”

In fact, Brown pointed out animatronic pets are likely safer for the elderly than live ones.

“We all know that when you have a live pet, whether it be a dog or a cat, dogs can bite, cats can bite, they can both scratch, you can trip over them,” she said. “The only way you’ll trip over one of these robotic pets is if you actually put the pet on the floor.”
All 13 of ADSS Area Agencies on Aging are participating.

“I’m optimistic these will be a success in Alabama,” Brown said.

To purchase your own, you can visit the Joy for All website here.

Full Article & Source:
Robotic pets used to remedy loneliness in nursing homes across Alabama

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Son shares grave warning, alleges negligence, abuse at Greenville senior living facility

by Madeleine Hackett

Click to Watch Video
GREENVILLE, S.C. — A lawsuit filed last month alleges negligence and abuse inside Rolling Green Village, a memory care assisted living facility located on Hoke Smith Boulevard in Greenville.

According to the lawsuit, Doris Robson, a memory care patient, suffered numerous suspicious injuries which were caused by abuse and/or neglect from Rolling Green Village. The lawsuit states that those injuries include rib fractures, collapsed lung, dehydration, weight loss, humiliation and loss of dignity.

Madeleine Hackett
doris robson in hospital with punctured lung
Doris Robson’s son tells WYFF News 4 that it was a black eye that ultimately spurred him to place a camera inside his mom’s room.

“When I saw her black eye, which was a perfect shiner… a perfect circular shiner around her eye... it looked like someone had took a boxing glove and punched her straight in the eye, and that’s when I said ‘OK, enough.’”

When Robson asked staff about the injuries, he said managers at the facility evaded his questions.

“When I started questioning the staff about it, it was more of a ‘Well, we don’t know what happened, this could have happened at night…’” Robson said.

So Robson purchased a Nest camera from a local store and placed it inside his mother’s room.

“I placed it in there, I didn’t tell anybody about it in there. I didn’t hide it. I didn’t announce it, but I didn’t hide it…” Robson said. “If you saw it, it would be in plain view, it was atop her bookshelf.”
According to the lawsuit:

“When Iain Robson obtained the video, he found evidence of multiple staff members handling Doris Robson very roughly and abusing/neglecting her in her room. As a result, Iain Robson contacted the administration again at the Defendants’ facility and notified them and the police department was also notified whereupon the police arrested and charged two of the Defendants’ employees in connection with their actions and neglect of Doris Robson. On May 21, 2019, the nurse practitioner assessed and evaluated Doris Robson in part due to the neglect and abuse reported by Iain Robson and noted that there were multiple areas of discoloration about her body including, but not limited to, bruises and skin tears to her mid-back, discoloration to her left hip which extended to the knee, bruising and discoloration to her right hip, right forearm, and left foot.”

Rolling Green Village issued this statement to WYFF 4:

“The safety and security of our Rolling Green Village family is paramount, and we’re devastated this happened to one of our residents. In no way should this reflect the character of the professionals at our community, or the quality of the services we’ve provided over the course of the last 30 years.

“It’s our standard policy to conduct thorough background checks on all employees prior to hiring them. We found nothing criminal in their past. The employees charged in this investigation have been terminated.

“We followed all of the proper legal and law enforcement procedures in this case. Our team appropriately notified the Department of Health and the Sheriff’s Department within the time limits required by the regulations.

“While the investigation is still underway, we will refrain from any additional comment at this time.”

To read the full lawsuit, you can visit:

Full Article & Source:
Son shares grave warning, alleges negligence, abuse at Greenville senior living facility

Michigan families fight to see seniors amid COVID-19, even in hospice care

Fears of COVID-19 have shut down visitation in long-term care facilities across Michigan — even, at times, in hospice. (Shutterstock image)
by Robin Erb

Late-stage Alzheimer’s disease has switched off nearly all of her mother’s memories — that’s cruel enough. Darlyn Townsend is now learning to accept that her mother is in hospice, too.

But the fact that Townsend can’t hold her 86-year-old mother’s hand, comb her hair, pick out a favorite pink nail polish, or play her favorite Perry Como tunes — that’s simply unforgivable, she says.

Like many nursing homes around Michigan, MediLodge at The Shore in Grand Haven has banned visitors because of COVID-19 concerns.

“I asked them about visitation,” Townsend told Bridge. “They aren’t going to do it. Not inside, not outside, not anything.

“I can’t even crack her window.”

Some 32,000 Michiganders in long-term care facilities will soon enter their sixth month of being cut off from friends and families who, for the most part, are unable to visit them due to statewide coronavirus restrictions. While some facilities allow limited visits, others continue to ban visits altogether, regardless of whether the resident has the virus. It’s a painful but necessary precaution, they say, to protect residents and staff from COVID-19.

Perhaps no families are more desperate than those whose loved ones are living out their final days. Representatives of the hospice industry and the Michigan Long Term Care Ombudsman Program say some families have been turned away from nursing home doors, even as family members were dying.

Darlyn Townsend stands outside the
nursing home looking at her mother,
Ann Yanna, whom she has been unable
 to visit in person, even though Yanna is
 in hospice. The nursing home, like
others around the state, have banned
 visitors as a way to guard against
 COVID-19 infections. (Photo courtesy
 of Darlyn Townsend)
Early in the pandemic, a few nursing homes briefly refused entry even to hospice nurses, according to Barry Cargill, executive director of Michigan HomeCare & Hospice Association.

“The next concern was to get family and loved ones in so they could be with that person,” he said. “It has been really hard … In many cases, families are not allowed to see their [relative]. Sometimes, they can’t even go to a window” to see them. 

“We’ve had family members who can’t visit their spouse,” said John Person, executive director of Hospice of Lansing, which runs an eight-person hospice residence and also provides care at long-term facilities. “This might be anecdotal, but my sense is that it is relatively common.” 

Some facilities have begun allowing visits, empowered by the discretion offered in guidance from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on June 30, said Alison Hirschel, director of the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative.

In it, MDHHS director Robert Gordon clarified that facilities “may” — but are not required to — allow visitation in certain circumstances, such as for residents in hospice, but only if it is scheduled and social distancing and other safety measures are followed.

In March, when the new coronavirus began to devastate Michigan, a total lockdown on nursing homes made sense, Hirschel said.

“We’d never seen anything like COVID before and it was so terrifying and so devastating that it makes sense” that senior facilities focused exclusively on stopping the virus, she said.

But five months later, “we realized that the meaning of life is much fuller than just protection against infection.”

Federal guidance during the pandemic — reinforced by state orders — have left decisions up to facilities, said Lori Smetanka, executive director of the Washington-based National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, a national nonprofit that represents residents and consumers of long-term care and services.

Across the country, she said, there are reports of residents dying alone while families are barred from facilities. Some families are allowed in — but kept on time limits or limited to a single visit.

“The facilities are given all the discretion about whether [visitors] can come in, when they can come in, how long they can stay, and whether they can come back … A lot of it is almost inhumane. It’s arbitrary,” Smetanka said.

“That’s no way to establish policy and person-centered care.” 

In Michigan, the MDHHS order allows — but does not require — visits when a resident is in “serious or critical condition or in hospice care.”

As a result, facilities have varied policies on what kinds of visits they will allow, she and Cargill said.

“It’s heartbreaking to me when someone can’t see their spouse at the end of life. That’s immoral to me,” said Person of Hospice of Lansing. 

In his facility, families are asked to designate a representative for regular visits, and those visitors must abide by screening requirements, he said. Others may visit in the final days of life, he said.

There are 158 hospice programs in Michigan that provide services at homes, skilled nursing facilities and hospitals. Hospice of Lansing is among 17 such programs that also operate a stand-alone hospice facility, according to data provided by Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Early in the pandemic, Person said his agency was “more aggressive” in trying to get families into third-party facilities, “but we weren’t getting anywhere.” Confrontation simply led to more tension and less cooperation.

‘Actively dying.’

Advocates for residents in long-term care facilities say their concern goes beyond the feelings of isolation. A lack of visitors — relatives, friends, specialists — means there are no extra eyes inside a facility to make sure residents receive proper care, said Salli Pung of Michigan Long Term Care Ombudsman, whose office also has received numerous complaints.

“We are hearing that many facilities are not allowing residents enrolled in hospice to receive a visitor until they are actively dying,” she said.

Darlyn Townsend said that’s what she was told about when she could visit her mother: “like if her oxygen or blood pressure starts to change,” she said she was told. But that’s beyond the point when visits would be most helpful to her mother, said Townsend, 65, of Coopersville.

MediLodge officials declined to comment. 

Townsend said her bright-red bag — the one with the lotions and polishes and hair brush that she usually took to care for her mother, Ann Yanna — has sat unused for months. 

On July 31, she said she sat on the phone on the other side of her mother’s MediLodge window, talking with the hospice nurse at her mother’s bedside. Her mother was shaking and distraught, she said. The hospice nurse put Townsend on speaker so she could sing her Como’s “Catch a Falling Star.”

Only then, Townsend said, her mother’s body stilled.

The hospice nurse told Townsend her mother is still eating, so she wants to take her mother another slice of her favorite: key lime pie.

“There may be so little left of her and the time she has,” Townsend said. “Can I not be part of that?”

Isolation vs. infection

Long-term care facilities — as well as Michigan’s hospice residences — say they must weigh the emotional and physical price of isolation against the threat of infection that visitors pose to residents and staff.

HCR Manorcare, a large national chain with facilities in Michigan, continues to prohibit general visitation. Loved ones must schedule visits with hospice patients and staff must supervise to ensure they abide by six-foot social distancing. Visitors must wear “full airborne [personal protective equipment] for one visitor after they have passed the screening process.  Visits last 15 minutes and there can be no touching,” spokeswoman Kelly Kessler said in an email to Bridge Michigan.

MDHHS chief Gordon’s guidance in June giving facilities discretion in setting visitation rules gives facilities leeway to consider many factors in their decisions — the spread of COVID-19 in the community as well as their own supplies of personal protective equipment and ability to isolate an infected patient, said Cargill, at the state’s hospice association.

“Gordon’s orders do not ease restrictions, but simply provide the clarity to what is allowable and how long-term care facilities should be managing the excepted visits,” said Melissa Samuel, president of the Health Care Association of Michigan, HCAM, which represents hundreds of long-term care facilities.

Tom Selznick of Livonia, a long-time family doctor who specializes in geriatric medicine, said he can’t blame facilities that invoke strict visitation rules. 

Selznick has spent much of his career working with patients in long-term care. He often advises families to care for dying relatives at home when possible. That’s even more important during a pandemic, he said.

Caring for patients at home whenever
possible is even more important during
a pandemic, said Tom Selznick,
a longtime family doctor and specialist
in geriatric  medicine. (Photo courtesy
 of Beaumont Health)
“Nursing homes are always in the hot seat. They’re being scrutinized. Facilities are concerned that all they need is one facility-acquired infection and it’s all over the news … They don’t want lawsuits and the state to come down on them.”

But social interaction is more important than even the best medicines in a person’s final days, Selznick said.

“When you’re toward the end of life and even if you have dementia, you need that family interaction. You don’t want to feel you’ve been abandoned,” he said.

That leaves industry trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, as it sorts through a barrage of guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and local and state health departments, said Person, at Hospice of Lansing.

“Finding the best practices — we’re all struggling with that,” he said.

Representatives of the hospice industry, including those from Harbor Hospice, which cares for Townsend’s mother, say they often rely on virtual visits — cellphones or computer tablets, for example — with family members when the patient is in a nursing home which the family can’t enter.

Still, families are “desperate, … angry, upset and scared,” said the hospice association’s Cargill.

“They’re a whole lot of people out there struggling for answers.”

Full Article & Source:
Michigan families fight to see seniors amid COVID-19, even in hospice care