Health

The coronavirus is taking a terrible toll on nursing homes in the Ohio Valley. Well over a thousand residents and staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia have tested positive for coronavirus, and dozens have died from COVID-19. 

Residents in these facilities are already more vulnerable, and in many cases, the facilities were running low on protective equipment even before the pandemic hit.

Figures supplied Tuesday by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear showed 217 residents and 127 staff members had tested positive for coronavirus at 33 facilities around the state; 33 residents and one staff member have died. 

Betsy Johnson is the president of the Kentucky Association of Healthcare Facilities, a trade association that represents nursing facilities across the state.  

She said facilities in the region were already running low on personal protective equipment after a significant flu season.

“So we were utilizing our supplies for the flu season and then this hit,” she said. “And of course, the supply chain got broken because a lot of this equipment is made in China and so we were not getting the supplies shipped to the United States.”

Johnson said most of the protective equipment has been given to local hospitals, leaving nursing homes in continued short supply. She said there have been some donations that have helped, but they need additional equipment to keep the region’s most vulnerable population safe from this new virus.

She said facility managers have to be careful where they purchase the protective equipment because they have encountered people who have tried to sell fraudulent equipment.

“But we’ve had several companies come forward and I would hope that they are not committing fraud, but you never know,” she said. “And so you have to be really careful because unfortunately, people take advantage of other people during difficult times.”

Johnson said most of the PPE has been given to local hospitals, leaving nursing homes in continued short supply. 

Kentucky has limited visitation at nursing homes except for family members of residents who are receiving end of life care.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine issued an order Monday requiring long-term care facilities to notify families within 24 hours if someone at the facility has tested positive for COVID-19. 

In West Virginia, several facilities have reported coronavirus cases. Two nursing homes in Wayne and Morgantown have together confirmed more than 90 cases among staff and residents. The association representing nursing homes in the state issued a plea last week for more protective equipment. “Many facilities have been trying for weeks to find alternative sources, even paying outrageous prices, only to see the orders go unfulfilled or indefinitely delayed,” Marty Wright, CEO of the West Virginia Health Care Association wrote.

Jared Bennett

Treyton Oak Towers, a senior living facility in Louisville where at least nine residents have died from coronavirus.

Misty Vantrease, a partner with Kentucky ElderLaw, a firm that represents seniors and their families, said not being able to see residents in a long-term care facility presents its own challenges. She said she’s been hearing concerns from family members about not being able to see their loved ones and know how well they’re being cared for.

“One of the big ways that when we have a loved one who is in some type of care, that we make sure that they’re being taken care of that all their needs are being met is laying eyes on them,” she said. 

Vantrease said the biggest challenge right now is communication between the facilities and families, which is where attorneys can step in and advocate for those residents. But, she said that’s challenging too because technology can be a difficult barrier and many residents suffer from hearing loss.

Based at WKYU in Bowling Green, KY, Becca Schimmel covers economy and infrastructure.