Editor’s note: In an update to this story, the Daviess County Health Department on Monday issued an order to stop Washington Nursing Center from transferring patients to other locations. The order also said that any nursing home that has received COVID-19 patients from any facility outside of Daviess County shall remove those patients immediately to prevent the possible further spread of the virus.
A Fishers-based operator of nursing homes plans to relocate residents of one of its facilities in southwest Indiana to other sites and designate the vacated 140-bed facility for COVID-19 patients only—a move that is meeting resistance from some public officials and family members.
Chosen Healthcare LLC sent a letter Sunday to family members of residents at Washington Nursing Center in Daviess County, about 115 miles southwest of Indianapolis.
“On April 6, we will relocate residents from Washington Nursing Center to other Chosen facilities in our network as we designate Washington Nursing Center as a COVID-care facility,” the letter said. “This move, while inconvenient, is being made with the safety of residents as a top priority, enabling us to drastically and meaningfully reduce risk of exposure to all, by caring for anyone who may test positive in a single isolated location.”
The letter said no resident or staff member at Washington Nursing Center had tested positive for COVID-19, But it did not say whether residents or staff members at any other Chosen Healthcare nursing home had tested positive. The company operates 19 facilities in Indiana, Iowa and Texas.
It’s unclear whether the company had entered an agreement with the Indiana State Department of Health or other agencies to designate the site.
Chosen Healthcare did not specify where it planned to move the residents. In southern Indiana, it operates nursing homes in Bloomington, Hanover, New Albany, Vincennes and Evansville.
Some family members said the move came with little warning.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Ashley Whitfield, whose father has lived at Washington Nursing Center on and off for seven years. “They’re going to be upheaving all these people. They’re going to be terrified.”
Whitfield, who lives in Indianapolis, said her father suffers from dementia and short-term memory loss and is likely to be confused if he is moved to a new nursing home with new staff. She said she didn’t learn of the move until Sunday, and staff didn’t know until Friday afternoon. Chosen Healthcare wants to move all residents by Tuesday, she said.
Some public officials say they oppose the move. Washington Mayor David Rhoads posted on his Facebook page Sunday that he was working on the matter with the county’s health officer, Dr. Merle Holsopple, and Daviess Community Hospital.
Rhoads said that because the nursing home operator is a private company, the city will not receive money in connection with the repurposing of Washington Nursing Center for COVID-19 patients.
“In regards to the situation at (Washington Nursing Center), I just want everyone to know that we are working closely with the Health Dept., Judges, Lawyers, DCH, State Officials, Good Samaritan and Dr. Holsopple to prevent this from happening.”
As of Sunday evening, his Facebook post had more than 100 comments, most of them opposing the move.
“Prayers that you can prevent these poor residents from being moved out of their homes,” one commenter wrote. “Wonder if their families can also file injunctions to help prevent this from happening. So sad.”
“I’ve been a nurse for 30+ years and continue to work with our aging population,” another commenter wrote. “The thought of this company doing this to the residents, families, and the dedicated employees absolutely breaks my heart.”
Rhoads did not spell out his reasons for opposing the conversion of the nursing home into a COVID-19 facility, but one factor could be the area’s limited medical resources. Daviess Community Hospital is the county’s only hospital, and it has only five beds in its intensive care unit, according to the American Hospital Directory. The next closest hospital is Good Samaritan, 20 miles west, in Vincennes.
Neither the mayor nor the health officer could be reached for comment. Through Saturday, Daviess County had only two positive COVID-19 cases, according to state health department.
Chosen Healthcare said in its letter to family members that to the extent possible, it will send Washington Nursing Center staff members to the other facilities so that residents will have familiar faces joining them.
“We will do everything in our power to ease this transition for residents and are committed to moving each resident back as soon as it is deemed safe to do so,” said the letter, written by Eric Ahlbrand, Chosen Healthcare’s regional director of operations. “We will continue to make Skype and other family sessions available, so you maintain important connections with loved ones even during this challenging time.”
Ahlbrand could not be reached for further comment Sunday.