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More Than 250 Missouri Nursing Home Residents Died From COVID-19

Frontier Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home in St. Charles on March 27, 2020.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Frontier Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home in St. Charles on March 27, 2020.

At least 253 nursing home residents in Missouri have died from COVID-19, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In data released this week, the agency named dozens of Missouri nursing homes with at least one COVID-19 case. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has withheld that data, citing privacy concerns.

The data covers the period through May 31. State health officials say there were 771 COVID deaths at that time.

“The most vulnerable among us are being wiped out,” said Craig Eichelman, director of the Missouri State AARP.

Nursing homes are potential hotbeds for COVID-19 outbreaks, he said.

“All those people are in the same building,” Eichelman said. “Someone comes from outside, a staff person, and they’re not screened every day. And they infect one person, and it just takes off. “It becomes uncontrollable.”

Nursing home residents are among those most at risk of dying from the disease, said Marjorie Moore, the executive director of VOYCE, an advocacy group for people who live in the facilities.

Those with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other pre-existing conditions are more likely to get very sick and die from the virus, she said.

“You have some of the most frail members of society living in these facilities together in one place,” Moore said. “We know all the pre-existing conditions that can make COVID harder on the body and lead to more deaths, almost all the people living in those facilities have one or more of those pre-existing conditions.”

It's likely that more Missouri nursing home residents have died, Moore said, noting 12 percent of the state’s nursing homes didn’t report data to the agency.

NHC HealthCare in Maryland Heights recorded 21 deaths of residents to federal officials, the highest number reported to the agency by a Missouri nursing home. Nazareth Living Center in St. Louis reported 19 deaths, St. Sophia Health and Rehab Center in Florissant, Alexian Brothers in St. Louis and St. Luke’s Surrey Place in Chesterfield recorded 18 deaths each.

Workers coming and going put nursing home residents at risk, Eichelman said. Many who are contagious with COVID-19 don’t immediately display symptoms, which means staff members could be unknowingly exposing patients to the virus.

To keep residents safe, nursing homes need to screen staff members for symptoms and test them for the virus, he said.

Eichelman also wants to see nursing homes report cases and deaths publicly so loved ones can decide to pull residents out of a facility if they deem necessary.

“Should there be a wave two of this pandemic, we need to understand the lessons from wave one so we can be better prepared and prevent the kind of death numbers that are currently being reported,” he said.

Missouri nursing homes still don’t have enough protective gear, a key component to keeping the virus from spreading, said Moore, of VOYCE.

“Stuff got to hospitals, which is fantastic. But nursing homes really got left behind,” she said. “And that’s part of why we ended up having the outbreaks that we did, we did not have the PPE in nursing homes that we really needed.”

Reporter Kae Petrin contributed to this aticle.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Hear Sarah Fenske talk with Marjorie Moore of VOYCE about this topic on St. Louis on the Air:

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Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.