The initial release this month of nursing homes with active outbreaks of COVID-19 confirmed one suspicion in Greenwood and provided one surprise.
The suspicion was that Crystal Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center has had one of the worst outbreaks in Mississippi, which is partially why Leflore County has one of the highest death tolls as well.
The surprise was that Golden Age nursing home, with five deaths, was not doing as well combating the virus as the community had been led to believe from the nursing home’s previous public statements.
Both of those revelations confirm why steadily pressing for this information — which ultimately required a lawsuit to get the Mississippi State Department of Health to provide — was necessary.
Most nursing homes were only going to be candid with the public to a point. If they felt the information was bad for their image — and ultimately their business — they probably weren’t going to volunteer much more than they were legally required to disclose.
Until now, the public had to take on faith that the nursing homes and other long-term care facilities were communicating to families about how much the virus had infiltrated their facility. But at least in a few instances, that communication wasn’t happening, or wasn’t happening enough to satisfy the families that have been prevented since March by state-ordered lockdowns at the nursing homes from personally checking on their relatives.
By identifying the facilities with active outbreaks — and quantifying how serious the outbreaks are — relatives of nursing home residents, the nursing home’s own employees and the public in general will have a much better understanding of the situation than they did previously. The Department of Health, in its first release, listed 115 long-term care facilities with active outbreaks, including 94 nursing homes. For each, it noted how many employees and residents had tested positive for COVID-19 and, most importantly, how many residents are believed to have died from it. The state agency, after initially saying it would update the list daily, now says it will be weekly.
No one likes this type of scrutiny. Nursing homes have a tough job even when there is not a pandemic going on. For most people, a nursing home is the last stop in their life. They are there because they can no longer take care of themselves, and their families are not equipped to do it, or are not willing to make the sacrifices it would require to provide around-the-clock care. It is not glamorous work. In the most advanced cases of physical and mental deterioration, it requires help with feeding, bathing and bodily functions. Thank goodness there are people with the willingness to provide this kind of care, and hopefully do it with compassion and gentleness. As a society, we have created nursing homes because most individuals don’t have the stomach, the patience or the time to take this burden on.
Nevertheless, there is a well-documented correlation between fatality numbers from COVID-19 and nursing home infection rates. In Mississippi, long-term care facilities — the majority of them nursing homes — account for half of the state’s deaths, which is higher than the national average. In some parts of the state, including here, it’s worse than that. In Leflore and Carroll counties combined, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities represent 63 percent of all COVID-19 deaths.
Because the respiratory disease is hardest on people who are elderly or in poor health — and since 100 percent of nursing home residents fit in one or both of those categories — keeping the coronavirus out of nursing homes is a top public health priority.
Some are doing it better than others.
There are more than 200 nursing homes in Mississippi. About 40 percent of these have reported active outbreaks. Of those, only seven have had 10 residents or more die. Forty-five have had none.
Why the disparity, not only between the infected and the not-infected facilities, but between the infected facilities themselves?
Did some nursing homes do more testing than others, even before the state mandated that every employee and resident be tested? Did they do a better job of screening their employees, who are the most likely source for bringing the infection into the building? Did they have more and better personal protection equipment? Did they have better adherence to protocols designed to reduce the risk of infection and of transmission?
Those are the types of questions that the public might not be asking without the data. Absent a point of comparison, they would have been left to guess where the outbreaks were the most serious. The release of the data takes the guesswork out of the equation.
Contact Tim Kalich at 662-581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.