BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - New data released by the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) shows the crushing effect COVID-19 has had in nursing homes, but among the concerns are signs of improvement.
“What you see in Louisiana, I believe, isn’t terribly different from what you’re seeing in many other states,” Gov. Edwards said during a press conference when asked about the nursing home data. “And what we have to recognize is that this virus seeded all across the state of Louisiana before we ever knew it was here.”
In a statement, Louisiana Nursing Home Association Executive Director Mike Berger said about the data: “Throughout this pandemic, LNHA and its membership have encouraged Louisiana’s nursing facilities to be transparent with their residents and residents’ family members regarding a positive COVID-19 case in their facility. LNHA supports the decisions made by the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) as our collective focus is the health and safety of nursing facility residents and staff.”
As of Monday, May 18, 279 licensed nursing homes across the state reported cases of COVID-19. The nursing home with the highest rate of death is in St. Tammany Parish at Forest Manor in Covington where 33 residents passed away.
“I had no idea they had that many deaths there, it’s very alarming,” said Carol Nunez, whose mother is living at Forest Manor.
The southern half of the state certainly has been impacted greatly with the early numbers tracking higher than other areas. Over the weeks, however, the northern portion of the state has seen a spike in cases.
Overall, 434 people in Northwest Louisiana nursing homes and adult residential care facilities have contracted coronavirus and 78 of them have died, the report shows. Highland Place Rehab & Nursing Center, a Shreveport facility, has had 124 cases.
In the capital region, East Baton Rouge Parish has lost 235 people from this virus. At least 112 of those cases were people living in a nursing home at the time they contracted the illness.
“It travels in ways that will be very hard to stop, because people will be totally asymptomatic, but they will have COVID-19, they will be contagious, and they might be a worker in a nursing home,” said Gov. Edwards. “They could be anybody, but that’s one of the things that makes this so challenging, which is why we’re testing staff, we’re testing residents who are asymptomatic because we know that that’s incredibly important.”
Old Jefferson Community Care Center has had 21 staff members test positive with the virus.
“From the beginning we have followed every CDC, CMS, LDH and governor’s office guidance,” said Lisa Gardner, a spokesperson for CommCare Management Corporation, the company that runs the facility. “This is a disease in which little was known by public officials initially and knowledge changes frequently.
“As knowledge changes, recommendations have changed early and often,” she added. “Take, for instance, CDC’s initial guidelines to test only symptomatic people. By April CDC announced that asymptomatic people can test positive and spread the virus.”
Gardner noted that keeping the family members informed has been a priority during the fight against this disease.
“Since we had the first incident of COVID, we have called families weekly to let them know how the positive cases have changed, what mitigation efforts we have implemented and what they can expect going forward,” she said. “Our administrator and medical director have communicated through videos on the website to help families understand the recommendations. We have also scheduled Facetime, Zoom meetings and virtual visits so families can keep up with their loved ones.”
Despite best efforts, the disease spread throughout the community. It’s a reality that has been a difficult not only for family, but for staff as well.
“Our staff are heroes,” Gardner said. “Residents live at the facilities and families visit often. These people become extended families. They have been dedicated and many are separated from families and working overtime to provide care and to take the time to help keep connections to their loved ones."
And there is hope. There have been no new cases for 12 days, Gardner says.
“In addition to following all public health officials guidance, we requested a consultation by Office of Public Health epidemiologists,” she said. “In April they spent the better part of a Saturday at Old Jefferson collaborating with the medical director and clinicians at Old Jefferson. One of their recommendations was to test asymptomatic residents and staff, if we could procure testing, which was in short supply. The first week of May, we were able to procure testing for residents and we obtained enough tests for staff. We will continue this practice as a routine going forward. This helps us to dedicate and manage resources to keep residents and staff safe.”
Moving forward, it’s hard to say how if this new data will have any additional impact on the mitigation efforts. What is certain is that one should use caution when reviewing the information.
"I think the new reports are fine, if you understand what you’re looking at. The first line is the current census, not the census when the event began so, if you compare the census to the number of patients at the current time, based on the report, those numbers could be very skewed,” Margaret Hoffmann, Covenant Nursing Home Executive Director explained.
The Louisiana Department of Health will release new nursing home data every Monday.
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