State to Require Nursing Home Plans to Deal With COVID-19

May 15, 2020, 5:46 p.m. ·

Becky Wisell, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Governor Pete Ricketts said Friday nursing homes will be required to submit plans for how they’ll manage during the coronavirus pandemic. But he’s still resisting having the state make the names of affected facilities public, even as one home reported 68 cases of COVID-19.

Gov. Ricketts said nursing homes will be required to submit plans, not only for how to keep residents safe, but how to handle mental health and family interactions through the rest of the year. Becky Wisell of the Department of Health and Human Services said the state has developed a planning tool, and wants to work with nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“We share a common goal. We all want to protect our most vulnerable residents, many of whom reside in long-term care facilities,” Wisell said.

Thursday night, Omaha station KETV said Life Care Center of Elkhorn had reported 68 cases of COVID 19 – 51 among residents, and 17 among staff. The television station said one resident had called earlier this week to complain there was a lack of staff to take care of residents.

Wisell declined to speak about that specific situation, but said in general, if there is a case, the local health department investigates, the department works with them on contact tracing, and a team from Nebraska Medicine works with the facility to prevent future spread. She said there’s also a procedure for investigating complaints, but it’s kept confidential until completion.

“We’re not able to confirm whether or not there are investigations at this time. If there is an investigation into a long-term care facility, and if we end up taking action against that facility based on the findings, once the process is completed, that information will be made available to the public,” she said.

And Ricketts described the process for deciding whether to evacuate a facility. “We will evacuate a long-term care facility if we feel like the staff is no longer able to provide care to the residents. And that really is a staffing issue with regard to…the estimate that there are enough workers there to continue to provide that care,” he said.

Ricketts was also asked about an article in the New York Times that said one third of COVID-19 deaths nationwide were in long-term care facilities, when the state has said up to 70 percent of deaths in Nebraska are in those facilities.

The governor pointed out the article, published Monday, also said only 2 percent of Nebraska deaths were in long-term care facilities, suggesting the information was inaccurate or out-of-date.

And Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, said people in long-term care facilities are at high risk, and Nebraska is doing a good job at keeping lower risk people safe.

“Even though life is precious, every death is a tragedy, having a higher percentage of high risk patients dying is probably a good statistic for the state, which means the lower risk patients are not dying,” Anthone said.

Earlier this week, Anthone said 73 of the then-total of 103 COVID-19 deaths in Nebraska were among long-term care facility residents. Friday, he said the confirmed tally was now only 62 of the current total of 113 deaths, because COVID-19 was not listed as the cause on all of the death certificates, and the matter was still being investigated.

And even though the governor is sticking by his policy of not naming specific nursing homes that are affected, Wisell pointed out that the CDC requires notifying the families of all residents in affected facilities.