Indiana’s largest operator of nursing homes has seen at least 374 residents die from COVID-19 so far this year, representing about 23% of all residential deaths at long-term-care facilities in the state, according to preliminary figures released by the state last week and updated Monday.
That’s even though the operator, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, accounts for only 15% of the licensed beds in long-term care facilities statewide, according to a master list of all facilities posted on the state’s website this month.
But Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County quarreled with the accuracy of those figures, and said its facilities actually account for 20% of the state’s skilled nursing facility beds.
Health and Hospital Corp., based in Indianapolis, operates 78 skilled nursing facilities across the state. The facilities are managed by American Senior Communities, also based in Indianapolis. ASC referred all questions to HHC.
In a lengthy statement to IBJ, Health and Hospital Corp. said the state acknowledged last week that only 83% of Indiana’s homes were reporting data to the state health department, “and that there were inaccuracies, inconsistencies and underreporting of data,” even among those homes that have submitted numbers.
Indiana has about 735 nursing homes and standalone residential communities, which altogether house about 65,000 people, according to the state.
The state said it plans to update its COVID-19 figures every week. The preliminary figures showed that about 1,400 residents of long-term-care nursing facilities have died statewide from COVID-19, accounting for more than half of the deaths from the virus in Indiana.
More than 43 long-term-care facilities in Indiana have each seen 10 or more residents die from the disease.
The state released its first, preliminary list of COVID-19 deaths and infections, by facility, on Wednesday. The move came after the state spent months refusing to provide facility-specific COVID-19 nursing home data to the general public or media. The state had been releasing collective numbers for all facilities on a weekly basis, but not facility-specific data.
The expanded data still lacked some critical information, including facility addresses—and, in most cases, the names of the facility owners or operators.
In response to questions from IBJ, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County said its residents are more vulnerable than most nursing facility residents because it operates a “disproportionately high number of homes in urban areas where the coronavirus is concentrated.”
“Many of the large outbreaks in HHC’s facilities are in these urban areas, where the prevalence and spread of COVID-19 is the highest in Indiana. For instance, in Marion County there are 53 nursing homes, and 14 (or 26%) are HHC facilities.”
The largest single facility in Indiana for residential deaths from COVID-19 is Harrison Terrace on the east side of Indianapolis, which is operated by HHC. Thirty-eight residents there have died.
In addition to operating long-term-care facilities, HHC is parent of Eskenazi Health, the Marion County Department of Public Health and Marion County’s Emergency Medical Service.
HHC added that it has “always been committed to caring for sicker, more complex residents with greater comorbidities.”
Comorbidities mean the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. Many of its residents also suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the HHC said.
“Memory care residents live in a more homelike atmosphere and are more difficult to keep separate. Residents who suffer from these illnesses are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19,” according to HHC’s statement.
HHC and ASC have created their own “testing strike team,” which includes nurses from ASC and Eskenazi Health.
“We are collaborating with the IU Health Lab, which is providing test kits and rapidly reading the results,” HHC said. “This strategy enhances our ability to quickly identify positive cases and implement isolation protocols. Early detection of the virus is imperative to reducing the exposure risk to other residents and to staff.”
It added: “As additional testing became available, HHC and ASC began–and continue–to test 100% of residents in any facilities where there is reason to suspect a resident or staff member may be COVID-19 positive. HHC and ASC are testing 100% of residents in facilities located in high-risk regions, even those with no known COVID-19 contact. During the month of June, HHC and ASC tested all employees in accordance with direction from ISDH.”
HHC said it began releasing figures on resident deaths and infections in April, prior to any state or federal mandates.
“We are deeply saddened whenever a resident or staff member becomes infected, and we grieve for each resident who has passed away,” it said. “As residents begin to recover, we remain steadfast in protecting and continuing to serve them.”