Indiana enlists National Guard to help with surge in nursing home COVID-19 deaths

Gov. Eric Holcomb is sending the Indiana National Guard into nursing homes across Indiana that have been hit with a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths to help with testing and routine procedures so staff is freed up to help patients.

The move is part of a five-point program the governor rolled out Wednesday to deal with the crisis.

“Deaths and cases continue to mount at these facilities,” Holcomb said during his weekly press briefing. “What we’ve learned is we need to initiate a more targeted effort to support and protect residents where they are.”

Nursing homes and long-term-care facilities have been struck particularly hard by the coronavirus. As of Oct. 14, Indiana long-term care facilities had reported 9,427 cases and 2,205 deaths among residents and 5,170 cases and 13 deaths among staff, accounting for 58.8% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths and 9.7% of cases.

Resident numbers were up by 506 cases and 92 deaths over the past week.

Earlier this week, a Boone County nursing home was hit with a COVID-19 outbreak that has resulted in at least four resident deaths and at least 37 positive cases among residents and employees. The Boone County Health Department said Tuesday that the outbreak occurred at Signature Healthcare at Parkwood, 1001 N. Grant St., in Lebanon.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents more than 14,000 facilities across the country that treat more than 5 million residents annually, released a report Monday that said the United States is beginning to see a third spike of new COVID cases in nursing homes due to the increased community spread among the general population.

Indiana has more than 500 nursing homes and standalone residential facilities that house about 65,000 people.

“While we saw cases decline for a while, we are now experiencing a surge in our long-term-care facilities, which is why we’re taking additional steps to protect our most vulnerable Hoosiers,” said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer of the Indiana Health Department.

Weaver said Guard members would begin their new tasks on Nov. 1, starting with nursing homes experiencing a high number of outbreaks, and then expand to all 535 long-term care facilities.

Around the nation, nursing homes are chronically understaffed and had fewer nurses and caretaking staff than they had reported to the government, according to federal data and payroll records analyzed by Kaiser Health News.  On the worst-staffed days at an average facility, the new data show, on-duty personnel cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did when the staffing roster was fullest, the study said.

The goal of sending in the National Guard is to provide some relief for the staff and families of nursing home residents who are drained by the task of caring for patients.

“They’re simply, like so many, overwhelmed by the scale and pace that this virus can really take on, and we appreciate everything that they’re doing,” Holcomb said. “There is fatigue there. You’re seeing it, you’re hearing it when you’re on the ground.”

The state’s plan also includes:

  • Using the state’s health care reserve workforce to assist nursing homes that are short-staffed.
  • Sending large amounts of personal protective equipment to nursing homes, including 2 million N-95 masks, 400,000 face shields and 685,000 gowns.
  • Reinforcing infection control education for employees in long-term-care facilities.
  • Allowing certain senior patients who are discharged from hospitals to go directly home instead of getting step-down care in a long-term-care facility.

In addition, the state expects to complete inspections this week of all nursing homes and standalone residential facilities to see how they meet infection-control standards for the safety of residents and staff.

And the state has been sending strike teams with epidemiologists and infection-control specialists to nursing homes experiencing high outbreaks.

“We want to save Hoosier lives, and in doing so, we also want to protect hospital capacity,” Weaver said. “We must take action because we have twice as many Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to late June and early July.”

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4 thoughts on “Indiana enlists National Guard to help with surge in nursing home COVID-19 deaths

  1. 92 deaths in the past week seems like that would be a large % of the week’s fatalities. How much is the increase? If the LTC data is available, it should be regularly reported. Would Virginia Craine even understand the question?

    All that said, this seems like a very good move by Holcomb. Identify the biggest problem area and concentrate resources there, as opposed to sending 1st graders home and telling restaurant owners to operate 12.5% of revenues

    1. True, and covid is STILL mostly dangerous to the older, unhealthy types. Center township has the highest death count from their really bad nursing homes. Guess where MCHD is located.

  2. The Covid-19 pandemic in Indiana is more than a nursing home problem!!! For example, our State needs to be more aggressive with MASK MANDATE than just simply a “pretty please.” Obviously Stage 5 is not working. With the fall and winter moving in, there will be more in door activities. Cases are beginning to increase indoors, hence the CDC expanded definition of “close contact.” Failure, with the current increase in cases, is “staying the course.” Going back to State 3 or 4 is just good medicine. Spend some of the unused Cares Act money for more PPE, more universal testing, and expanded contact tracing. Why has our State remained so reticent to better care of the health of our citizens? If our State would hire outside infectious disease and trained epidemiologists and follow their sound medical judgement, we could contain the pandemic and still maintain an adequate economy. If there was not a local and national election this year, my guess is that health would have been taken more seriously. Well maybe not. Indiana has never been at the forefront of public health policies.

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