Ohio nursing home deaths spike in southwest Ohio, straining workers and families

The number of Ohioans in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities who have died from COVID-19 has been climbing in November and into December in step with the growing intensity of the pandemic.

There were 212 new deaths from the virus reported from Dec. 3 to Dec. 9, per the Ohio Department of Health. That’s up from 155 deaths the week prior and 90 weekly deaths a month prior.

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“When the case count is at such a high level with the community, it’s really impossible to keep it out despite best practices,” said Patrick Schwartz, spokesman for LeadingAge Ohio, which represents nonprofit nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care providers.

Older adults living in assisted living facilities and nursing homes have continued to face an outsized risk of hospitalization and death during the pandemic. Even with visitor restrictions, workers who might not realize they are infectious can bring the virus into the facility. It can quickly spread in closely congregated settings among medically vulnerable residents.

Since April 15, when the state started specifically tracking long-term care deaths, 3,706 long-term care residents have died. In total, 7,298 Ohioans have died from COVID.

Locally, as of Dec. 9, that includes 67 long-term care residents in Butler County who died, in Clark 48 have died, in Greene 43 have died, in Miami 21 have died, in Montgomery 143 have died, in Preble nine have died, and in Warren 42 have died.

“Our organization has asked Ohioans to take extra precautions and find creative alternatives to traditional holiday gatherings, and do what they can to take this pressure off of the workforce and long term care,” Schwartz said.

The first COVID-19 vaccinations in Ohio could start as soon as next week but in the mean time the pandemic impact has continued to hit these vulnerable residents and staff.

A one-month delay in distributing the vaccine to all long-term care residents and caregivers, could result in more than 20,000 of residents across the country losing their life when a vaccine could have saved them, according to Mark Parkinson, CEO of the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes.

“Nursing homes are seeing the worst outbreak since last Spring with a record number of new cases (18,000-plus per week) due to community spread rapidly increasing across the U.S. and especially in the Midwest,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we are also seeing COVID-related deaths in nursing homes increase to more than 2,000 per week.”

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Schwartz said it is emotionally difficult for the workers.

Facilities with one case are considered to be facilities with an outbreak, which means visitation is then suspended and workers are not only trying to protect residents but also provide emotional support.

“In a lot of cases, long-term care workers are filling in for families when they can’t visit,” Schwartz said.

Meanwhile, residents have had either restricted visiting or no visiting since March. The staff and facilities are strained. AARP and Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University found that in the four weeks leading up to Nov. 15 that 28.9% of Ohio nursing homes lacked at least a one week supply of personal protective equipment and 36.6% said they were short on direct care workers.

How to get help

For people with questions or concerns about nursing home and assisted living resident rights, the Ohio Long-Term Care Ombudsman program is a free resource at 1-800-282-1206 or OhioOmbudsman@age.ohio.gov. Local ombudsmen in your community can help resolve disputes and advocate for residents’ rights to be upheld.

Alzheimer’s Association offers free caregiver support, information, and care consultations. These services are available by phone or online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Call their Helpline at 800-272-3900.

Deaths since April 19 at long-term care facilities

Butler County: 67

Clark: 48

Greene: 43

Miami: 21

Montgomery: 143

Preble: 9

Warren: 42