Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock and Representative Hank Johnson seek investigation into death data.
Georgia National Guard disinfects nursing home: Wikimedia Commons Photo
Seeking an assisted living facility without a Covid-19 problem turned out to be easier than I thought.
I was interested in short-term care for my mother, who has lived with my husband and me for the past year and a half. We needed a break from her daily care, but the threat of COVID-19 kept me away from nursing homes and senior living places in 2020.
Before vaccines became available, Georgia’s nursing homes had been hard hit by the coronavirus.
The most recent reports from the Department of Community Health, which licenses and inspects long-term care homes, showed 4,174 deaths among residents of long-term care facilities with 25 or more beds.
One of the hardest hit homes in Georgia, according to a report in The Augusta Chronicle, was Pruitthealth on Milledgeville Road. Latest reports show 169 residents have tested positive and 17 have died.
The Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home in the Augusta area reported even more deaths, with 26 deaths out of 108 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.
In April of last year, Governor Brian Kemp attempted to slow the tsunami of nursing home infections. He and Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden deployed over 100 Guardsmen to long term care facilities to help fight infections through improved sanitation.
But until vaccinations turned the tide, the virus continued to rage unchecked through many long-term care facilites.
Death, Isolation, and Loneliness
I saw first-hand what could happen at the height of the pandemic. My friend’s mother, who lived in a senior living facility, tested positive for the virus. Fortunately, she was asymptomatic and later tested negative. But getting sick wasn’t the only pandemic problem.
Residents of long-term care facilities were isolated for months at a time, unable to see family members.
My friend’s mother died, although not from Covid-19. “She died from loneliness,” my friend said later. “The pandemic killed her, even though she didn’t die directly from the virus.”
I did not want my mother to catch the virus, but I didn’t want her to suffer the loneliness and isolation of not being able to have visitors, either. An assisted living home seemed out of the question last year.
But with the vaccine rollout in Georgia, the scenario is changing for the better.
Last week the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living noted an 82% drop in new Covid cases since the peak in December. Deaths have also dropped by 63%.
Vaccines Are Making a Difference
The associations attribute the drop to vaccinations.
Federal data show the number of new resident deaths linked to nursing homes totaled 1,464 for the week that that ended February 14, down from weekly numbers that exceeded 5,000.
In Georgia overall, cases are down 74% among long-term care residents.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, new infections are plummeting, and many Georgia long-term nursing homes, assisted living communities and personal care homes reported no new cases in February.
Currently, Georgia reports that 46,281 residents of long-term care facilities have been vaccinated.
When I talked with the director of a long-term care facility a few blocks from my house, he said there were no cases of COVID-19 and his entire staff had been vaccinated. Visitors were now allowed, as long as they wore masks.
Thanks to widespread vaccinations, the situation has improved dramatically since my friend’s mother died.
Warnock and Johnson Seek Investigation
But despite the drop in Coronavirus cases, Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock and Representative Hank Johnson are seeking an investigation of Georgia’s nursing home death data.
Both Senator Warnock and Representative Johnson are members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and House Committee Oversight and Reform.
The two Congressmen, both Democrats, wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services pointing to inconsistent counts reported by some facilities to state and federal agencies.
In an April 1 press release, they explained that the request to review COVID-19 data recording in Georgia nursing homes stemmed from discrepancies in 41 nursing homes in the state.
The nursing homes record zero COVID-19 related deaths among their residents despite reporting over 900 infections.
In addition, numerous Georgia nursing homes also reported conflicting figures to federal and state officials and appear to be under reporting deaths to the Federal government, according to the press release.
Senator Warnock and Representative Johnson expressed their interest in protecting the wellbeing of Georgia’s seniors and ensuring that the Federal government provides transparent and accurate accounting of COVID-19’s effect in Georgia’s nursing homes.
“The irregularities in reported data of COVID-19 deaths in nursing home demand urgent action. Ensuring greater transparency in all reported COVID-19 data is critical for Georgia families,” said Senator Warnock.
“Hardworking Georgians entrust nursing home facilities to keep their loved ones safe; we need clarity so our state’s families can be confident that their loved ones are safe—and to provide a more accurate picture of the effects of the pandemic on our most vulnerable Georgians.”
“It’s critical that we use science and accurate data to crush the virus and get beyond the pandemic – especially when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us,” said Rep. Johnson.
“Sen. Warnock and I believe that flawed data reporting irregularities when it comes to COVID-19 numbers are deeply concerning and demand an investigation. Families in Georgia need greater transparency in order to feel confident that their loved ones are safe.”
Safety is my first concern, too. A year ago, I never would have considered respite care. But with the drop in numbers, I feel better about my mother's exposure to COVID-19. With increased vaccination rates, the situation should improve even more.