As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the United States, it has taken a particular toll on nursing homes. Reports of outbreaks in facilities meant to care for the elderly have become widespread, and many are worried that things will continue to decline. Sadly, restrictions on these facilities also mean that many people are unable to visit with their loved ones.
Experts agree that the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are the most susceptible to having severe symptoms from COVID-19 — the novel coronavirus. The rates of hospitalizations and mortality are higher in those communities, so extra precautions are being taken to isolate those kinds of cases. Still, that has not been enough to keep some tragic outbreaks from claiming lives within nursing homes around the country.
According to a report by The New York Times, at least 7,000 people have died in nursing homes in the U.S. as a result of the coronavirus as of Saturday, April 18. In total, about 20 percent of coronavirus deaths in the country are linked to nursing homes, and more are expected in the coming weeks. Over 36,500 residents and employees of nursing homes have contracted the coronavirus in the U.S.
"They're death pits," former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey told The Times. "These nursing homes are already overwhelmed. They're crowded and they're understaffed. One Covid-positive patient in a nursing home produces carnage."
Nursing homes are also subject to extreme isolation protocol, to the point where many residents are unable to have visitors even if they become mortally ill. This leaves families heartbroken when their grandparent is spends their last days alone.
Here are some of the tragedies coming out of American nursing homes in recent weeks.
According to The Times, the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington may have been the first nursing home to be devastated by COVID-19. In late February, two thirds of the residents there contracted the virus, as well as 47 of its workers. In total, 35 people died.
Life Care had its first confirmed case on Feb. 28. Since then, the facility has had 129 cases in total. Experts were torn between caring for the residents, isolating those who may have been exposed and sanitizing the facility.
"This caught them completely off guard," said the Redmond Fire Department's Jim Whitney. "They just were not prepared for what was happening. None of us were."
The Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in Andover, New Jersey had at least 36 coronavirus deaths, according to a report by CNN. It is one of the largest nursing homes in New Jersey, and is now under investigation by the state's Department of Health and attorney general to understand what happened there.
The facility is split into two buildings, and both were infected with the virus. Police said there were over 120 confirmed cases between the two sites, and with local morgues and funeral homes filling to capacity, the nursing home's own morgue was full as well.
"They surveyed the facility and reported back that there was appropriate staffing and PPE at that time," Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. "Additionally they reported that they observed five bodies on site at that time."
Nearly two weeks into a crisis that has transformed a Stafford nursing home into a hot spot in the state’s unfolding #COVID19 pandemic, health care workers at the Evergreen Health Care Center said they are working under highly stressful conditions. https://t.co/XkW1VHnoxM— Hartford Courant (@hartfordcourant) March 30, 2020
Evergreen Health Care Center in Stafford, Connecticut became a hotspot for the virus with a huge spike in cases and not enough masks to go around. An employee at the facility told reporters from The Hartford Courant: "We don't know who is sick or who isn't."
So far, the facility has 12 positive test for COVID-19 out of the state's limited supply of tests. Three patients have passed away from the virus, and six employees are infected as well. Nine more patients show symptoms but have not been tested.
According to a report by WSB-TV 2 Atlanta, about 75 percent of the residents at the Arbor Terrace at Cascade have coronavirus. The nursing home has lost 15 residents, and only 37 remain inside. Out of those, 28 have tested positive for COVID-19. Unable to go in and visit their loved ones, family members have reportedly been gathering outside the facility in quiet vigils.
"I'm not a health expert but obviously there's a problem going on in the facility," said Fulton County District 6 Commissioner Joe Carn.
UPDATE : Nine people died yesterday alone from covid19 at the Parker Jewish Institute on Long Island. 48 people had died as of Thursday, bringing the total to 57, according to an internal list I reviewed. https://t.co/tQqm0L0i38— Erin Banco (@ErinBanco) April 18, 2020
A nurse at the Parker Jewish Institute in Long Island, New York spoke to reporters from The Daily Beast about the conditions inside on the condition of anonymity, fearing she would lose her job for revealing what was going on inside. She produced data on long-term care facilities all over the state, showing that 179 patients in in Parker Jewish alone had tested positive for the virus. Out of them, 48 had passed away.
"I don't think anyone is focusing on nursing homes," the anonymous nurse said. "But we have a lot of sick people here. We have dedicated units for COVID patients but it's spreading to the other floors. They gave us some generic masks the other day that weren't N95 so we're wearing the same one from last week. We're scared we don't have protection."
The coronavirus outbreak in Plantation Manor Nursing Home in McCalla, Alabama was described as "an absolute war" by one of its managers. The virus has taken 16 lives in nursing homes around the state, according to AL.com, and experts say these facilities may not just be the hardest hit by the virus — they may see it lingering for the longest time as well.
"This virus is insidious," an NHS spokesperson said said. "As long as it exists outside the nursing home, there is a chance it will come in with a visitor, with a staff member, with a delivery person, and it will spread."
22 residents and one staff member at a Joliet nursing home have died of COVID-19, a spokeswoman said. Nursing homes nationwide have become epicenters and “accelerators” of the spread of the coronavirus. https://t.co/6tgbuv8SHs— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) April 15, 2020
Symphony of Joliet Nursing Home in Joliet, Illinois was 23 deaths due to the coronavirus — enough to call for a state probe into the facility. According to a report by Fox News, the city's Mayor Bob O'Dekirk called for an investigation into the tragedy this week.
"Right now I think this is a matter for health officials to get involved and start untangling the mess of what happened inside that nursing home," he said. "We don’t have answers right now but we going to have the answers and certainly Joliet families, the people who lost loved ones in there, have a right to get answers."
For the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the CDC's website.