15 Finds Out: Nursing homes see the highest rate of COVID deaths. What are Fort Wayne facilities doing to slow spread?

Indiana

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — During his weekly COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced steps the state plans to take to reduce the number of Hoosiers dying in long-term care facilities from COVID-19.

This comes after the state reached its highest total for hospitalizations on Tuesday. Over 1,600 people were hospitalized for COVID-19.

This month, the majority of Hoosiers who were hospitalized were over the age of 60, explained State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box, who has returned from quarantining.

In addition to the increase in hospitalizations, the state is seeing a steady number of Hoosiers who are dying from COVID-19.

Dr. Box explains that 56% of COVID-19 deaths are those who are treated in long-term care facilities.

In an effort to limit and lower the number of Hoosiers who are dying of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, the governor is deploying the Indiana National Guard to help assist those working in long-term care facilities. This was first announced last week at the governor’s COVID-19 briefing.

Beginning Monday that the state plans to deploy over 1,300 men and women serving in the Indiana National Guard to the long-term care facilities around Indiana in phases.

Brigadier General R. Dale Lyles from the Indiana National Guard broke down the deployment timeline over the next few weeks.

On Monday, 399 Indiana National Guardsmen will be working in 133 long-term care facilities around the state. On Nov. 9, 750 Guardsmen will be working in 250 long-term care facilities around the state. By mid-November, 1,350 Guardsmen will be working in 534 long-term care facilities.

“Indiana National Guard troops are well trained and ready to assist with keeping long-term care facility residents and staff members safe and protected during this health crisis.”

Brigadier General Lyles

Training for the guardsmen is provided by professional staff beginning this week to teach infectious control measures and prepare the guardsmen for the weeks ahead.

Guardsmen will be tested during training as well as weekly when deployed.

In addition to the Indiana National Guard being deployed, over two million N95 masks and other PPE will the sent to long-term care facilities. As of Tuesday, Dr. Box said that about 50% of the PPE and masks have been sent to the facilities.

The state is reaching out to the healthcare reserve workforce to supplement long-term care resources. Currently, the state plans to hire about 50 clinical staff. Any licensed professional who might be interested in volunteering is asked to visit the Indiana State Department of Health website.

Lorna McComb has lived at Lutheran Life Villages’ Pine Valley community for two years now and said that considering her facility has not seen any cases of COVID-19 among residents, the numbers are alarming.

“It’s hard to believe,” said McComb. “We watch television and when we hear how many’s died and even in Allen County there are fewer than there are in some of the other counties.”

Lutheran Life Villages President and CEO Alex Kiefer said it is a difficult reality for staff as well, who have to worry about the possibility they may bring the virus to their residents.

“Our staff have kids,” said Kiefer. “Our staff have family members who work in other places, our staff has grandparents, our staff has all of those same things that you’re challenged with and they come in and their hurt is how do we take care of our residents? And sometimes that means the sacrifices that they’re making at home and not doing things that maybe some others are doing. As we’ve kind of seen the last few weeks as the positivity rate has gone up around us and it just feels like it’s everywhere, I think that has us all on edge too.”

Kiefer said despite worries, they have fared relatively well against the pandemic. He credits that to their use of point-of-care testing and temperature checks for identifying virus carriers early. Their communities also require masks and social distancing between staff and residents and have set up specific spaces indoors and out for visitation. However, the biggest help in slowing the spread to their residents has been clear communication from the state as well as months of adapting to the pandemic.

“We’re testing our staff every single week and that gets a little old but at the same time that’s a way for us to screen for positives that we just don’t even know about so it’s just a lot of things that we’ve learned over the last 6 to 8 months that have given us knowledge that we can use today,” said Kiefer.

Although day-to-day life in her community looks vastly different than when she first moved into the Pine Valley community, McComb said the changes are worth it if it keeps her and her neighbors safe.

“I think they’re doing wonderful here,” said McComb. “When you’re working together for a goal, it’s pretty good because if we don’t adhere to the rules, who knows what’s going to happen.”

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