The coronavirus continues to take a heavy toll on the Life Care Center of Elkhorn, where nearly every current resident has tested positive for the virus and six have died.
In a daily update released Thursday, the Omaha nursing home said five more residents and one more staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. Another resident died overnight.
That means 57 of the facility’s current 61 residents have COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. (A total of 79 residents were tested on May 11 and 20 tested negative. The care center said its resident count fluctuates daily.)
Ten residents are hospitalized. Twenty-seven employees in total are infected, though the facility says it has enough staff to care for its seniors.
The victims of the virus include Fred and Judy Whitesel, an Omaha couple in their 80s who died hours apart on Monday. Both had COVID-19.
“We understand this is a difficult time for families, for residents and for staff,” said Timothy Killian, a spokesman for Life Care Centers of America, the national nursing home chain that owns the Elkhorn facility. “We continue to work directly with (the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services) on the best course of action.”
While most people don’t become seriously ill from COVID-19, older people, starting at age 60, and those with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable to complications and even death. The virus has been especially difficult to contain once it enters nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care centers.
One man said he is running out of options for his mother, a Life Care Center of Elkhorn resident in her 70s who has progressive multiple sclerosis and has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The man spoke on the condition that he and his mother not be named out of fear that they could face retaliation from the facility.
He’d like to move her to another care center but is running into hurdle after hurdle.
His mother is on Medicaid, which not all nursing facilities accept for payment. Others have long waiting lists or are prohibitively expensive. And now that she has COVID-19, it will be virtually impossible to be admitted anywhere while she is still contagious.
“If you’re private-pay, you’re golden, but we don’t have $8,000 a month to sock away,” he said.
He would like to see all residents transferred to the hospital, similar to what happened when a coronavirus outbreak struck the Carter Place assisted living facility in Blair. Seventeen residents were moved to an unused floor at Midlands Hospital in Papillion.
“I can’t trust it’s going to get any better there,” he said. “The infection is still spreading.”
Killian said that right now there are no plans to move patients, unless they need more care at a hospital.
The Elkhorn facility has been cited and fined by state and federal inspectors in the past for problems that include the facility’s response to a resident’s alleged sexual assault, a nurse who dispensed medication without hand-washing first and residents who weren’t helped to the bathroom quickly enough.
State inspectors were there again on Monday, and infection control specialists from the state and the University of Nebraska Medical Center are lending expertise.
Life Care Centers of America has said staff are doing all they can to curb the spread while bathing, feeding and caring for residents. The family of Fred and Judy Whitesel, the couple who died, said they don’t blame the nursing home for their deaths.
The man who hopes to move his mother said problems started with a cough — his mother’s roommate couldn’t stop.
She always does that, a nurse told the son over the phone. Visitors have been barred from the facility for roughly two months, to prevent the spread of the virus.
Then the roommate tested positive for the coronavirus and ended up in the hospital. His mother’s symptoms seem to be mild.
“She’s extremely depressed,” he said.
He was never directly notified that his mother tested positive, he said.
“Each resident and their family are able to make individual decisions on the best course of action for their loved one,” Killian said in response. “If a family chooses, they have the ability to take that resident to their own home or to place them into a different facility.”
Due in part to her limited mobility from the MS, his mother has developed bedsores in the past, the man said. Last weekend, he said, she wasn’t moved out of bed from Friday night until Sunday morning, when he came to visit outside her window. She has trouble feeding herself in bed.
“She’s not there because she wants to be,” he said. “She’s there because we don’t have a choice.”
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