I-TEAM: Georgia lawmakers act as COVID-19 takes toll in nursing homes

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 2:37 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Georgia lawmakers are taking action after the staggering death toll from coronavirus is happening in one place: nursing homes.

As we have told you, nearly half of all COVID deaths in Georgia are in long term care facilities. Now we’ve found deaths from COVID-19 have shot up 36 percent in just six weeks across Georgia.

Lawmakers passed House Bill 987 on Tuesday. The new law increases accountability and staffing in Georgia’s nursing homes -- something many families believe is long overdue.

From Windermere Health and Rehabilitation Center in Augusta to Sparta Health and Rehabilitation in Hancock County, we have reported on COVID-19 sweeping through our local nursing homes seemingly overnight. We can now tell you the outbreaks are far from over.

New data released by the Department of Community Health shows 20 veterans have died of the virus at Georgia War Veterans nursing home in downtown Augusta. Twenty deaths is more than the 11 deaths reported at Windermere across town. This makes Georgia War Veterans Home to the deadliest local COVID outbreak and 7th highest out of nearly 400 facilities statewide.

When we reached out to the facility, we were told, “the virus outlook at Georgia War mirrors that of the general population for adults 60 and older who have underlying health conditions. Outside reviewers have endorsed Georgia War’s response and prevention efforts.”

Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home has consistently been ahead of the curve with preventive measures and didn’t experience a case in the building for three months into the pandemic. As the number of cases in the community have increased, Georgia War has also experienced an increase in cases. This pandemic brings new medical challenges every day and we are working directly with federal, state, and local government agencies and community partners to ensure that we do everything we can to combat this disease. The facility has also taken all the necessary infection control precautions which are in line with CDC standards.

-The Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home

At a national level, Congress is now investigating five nursing home corporations, including the one which owns Windermere. Congressman Jim Clyburn sent a letter to the CEO of Windermere two weeks ago. The letter addresses allegations that the company failed to address the coronavirus through adequate PPE supply, appropriate staff levels, and infection control.

Georgia lawmakers are now taking new action too against any facility found to be in violation of required safety measures.

HB 987 now doubles the fine from $1,000 to $2,000 per day per violation. It also imposes a mandatory fine of no less than $5,000 for a violation that has caused death or serious injury to a resident.

The bill also requires memory care units to be certified and the administrators of assisted living and large personal care homes to be licensed. It also increases staffing and training in these facilities.

But meeting the new requirements could come as a challenge for some facilities. Today marks the first day in the new state budget. Lawmakers slashed funds for the Georgia War Veteran’s Nursing Home. Now, staff are left fighting a very deadly COVID outbreak with even less money.

The new law does not go into effect until next year. The state says they need the time to come up with the new training guidelines for staff.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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