I-TEAM: Failing the fragile

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 6:52 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Every passing day feels like one step closer to normal but inside our nursing homes normal still feels forever away. Georgia holds the highest backlog of nursing home inspections in the nation and families in South Carolina are still fighting to visit their loved ones.

It’s been a little more than a year since COVID outbreaks spread through Augusta nursing homes. Infections and deaths are down inside of facilities but the fight to protect residents is still ongoing. The outbreak came faster than families could say goodbye.

“Doctor got on the phone and pretty much told me, ‘You know your mom is in the hospital?’ said Melvin Jackson. ‘No, sir.’ The doctor said, ‘Did you know she is positive for coronavirus?’ he said, ‘No, sir, I wasn’t. She’s a patient at Windermere and I just spoke to her earlier that morning.’”

67-year-old Jeanie Jackson passed away less than 48 hours later.

“I couldn’t even give my mom one last kiss - none of that, and it’s sad,” he said.

In all, 84 residents and 14 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 at Windermere Health and Rehabilitation Center in Augusta since the outbreak last April. 14 died. 82-year-old Barbara Roye was one of the first patients to die of the virus.

“You hear about the death rate and the toll going up, but you never think it’s going to happen to you in your hometown in your grandmother’s nursing home,” he said.

But the I-Team found the Office of Inspector General predicted problems in Georgia’s nursing homes long before the pandemic.

The OIG documents the state fell short of investigating immediate and high jeopardy complaints between 2011 and 2015. Three years later, Georgia still had problems conducting timely inspections. An investigation by the newspaper company CNHI found Georgia has the largest backlog of nursing home inspections in the country.

The report shows by the end of March of this year 80 percent of nursing homes had not undergone a comprehensive inspection in 18 months. Federal regulations mandate states to conduct a minimum of at least one inspection a year.

Our I-Team found Windermere had gone 14 months without an inspection by the time of the outbreak. Windermere inspection report.

“You never think it’s going to be you, and that is why I am angry,” Jackson said.

Bans on visitation kept families on both sides of the river from being the eyes and ears of their loved ones.

“She went in May of 2018. I promised her I would be there every day every single day up until they locked the door and I miss her,” he said.

Some South Carolina families came to the I-Team to say they are still fighting for visitation despite this order issued by the state of South Carolina seven months ago.

“...Family and other relatives of each resident of long term care facility be allowed immediate access to that resident...Nursing homes should encourage visitation of residence by family and friends.”

The I-Team found the state of South Carolina has fined 325 facilities including several in our area.

This month South Carolina updated the order to state:

“Indoor visitation facilities are required to allow indoor visitation at all times and for all residents.”

A facility can limit indoor visitation but only in circumstances such as a resident is positive for COVID or unvaccinated.

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