At least 49 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Missouri have residents or workers who tested positive for COVID-19, according to state health officials.
State and federal authorities last month directed nursing homes to restrict access to visitors, increase screenings for symptoms and cancel social activities to limit exposure to the coronavirus.
The restrictions led state surveyors to stop inspecting long-term care facilities for lapses in care. The lack of government oversight makes it hard to know if facilities are taking the necessary precautions to protect residents, said Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a St. Louis-area advocacy group for long-term care residents.
“There really isn’t the ability to do a lot of oversight right now, and that is a bit scary,” Moore said. “We don’t want the surveyors going from nursing home to nursing home to nursing home and spreading the disease, either. So it is really a challenge right now to make sure that facilities are doing the right thing consistently.”
Nursing home residents who have the ability to speak up will have to advocate for themselves if they see employees not washing their hands, Moore said.
But she said nursing home operators must ensure workers have abundant supplies of masks and other protective equipment to help reduce residents’ exposure to the virus.
Health officials in Missouri and Illinois are not identifying nursing homes where residents and employees have been infected by the coronavirus. Disclosing them violates state patient privacy laws.
Facilities, residents or families of residents decide if they want to reveal that someone at a nursing home has tested positive for the virus, said Sgt. Benjamin Granda of the St. Louis County Police Department. Frontier Health and Rehabilitation in St. Charles announced Tuesday that 42 residents and eight workers have tested positive, and five residents have died due to complications of the disease.
“I honestly think the more information that a facility chooses to give out to residents and their families, the better,” Moore said. “It gives people a chance to look at this rationally and say, 'What more can we do to protect people?'”
VOYCE has received numerous calls from families who are considering taking their loved ones out of nursing homes, Moore said. The advocacy group does not recommend bringing a resident home because families may not be equipped to take care of their relatives. Family members also could expose them to the virus in other ways.
Only a few nursing homes are taking new residents, but every nursing home is at risk of becoming exposed to the virus, Moore said.
“There’s a lot of precautions you can take, but, man, [nursing home workers] are so close to these folks when they’re doing their jobs and doing what needs to be done to care for that person,” Moore said. “The spread is a real possibility in these facilities.”
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