More than one-quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in Indiana have been nursing home residents, even though those residents represent just 7% of all cases in the state.
The figures, released Wednesday afternoon, reflect the outsized danger of the coronavirus to elderly people, who are often physically weak and have underlying conditions, from heart disease to diabetes.
“That’s heartbreaking but it’s unfortunately an expected disparity, knowing that these individuals in these facilities are our highest-risk population, based on their age and chronic health conditions,” Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said.
She said 119 of the state’s 436 deaths from COVID-19, or 27%, were residents of long-term care facilities and residential communities. That’s up sharply from 31 deaths in those facilities seven days ago, then representing just 15% of the statewide deaths.
Indiana has 735 nursing homes and standalone residential facilities that house about 65,000 people. Of that figure, 681 residents have tested positive in 152 facilities.
In addition, 512 staff members at long-term care or standalone residential communities have fallen ill from the virus, and one staff worker has died.
“These are devastating losses for all of the families,” Box said.
Indiana has taken several steps to deal with the growing number of deaths at senior communities and other confined settings. Last week, Box ordered long-term care facilities to report any deaths or positive cases within 24 hours.
The order requires any residential facility, jail, prison “or any other congregant setting” to report to local and state health departments if they have residents or employees with a known or suspected case of COVID-19, if an individual dies of the disease, or if an employee tests positive.
And earlier this week, Box said that nursing homes will be permitted to relocate or discharge residents to reduce the risk of COVID-19, even if families or local officials object. The goal of the order was to protect residents who have tested negative from getting the infection, while allowing residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 to get treated together in designated units or buildings.
On Wednesday, Box clarified the order to say that a nursing home must notify family members before relocating a relative. She also said any nursing home company that wants to designate a facility for COVID-19 patients must notify and work with local hospital and community leaders.