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I-TEAM: 'More people will suffer' — COVID-19's economic damage further threatens nursing homes

 As much as $2 million may be axed for community services for Georgia's elderly during state budget cuts. (Source: WRDW)
As much as $2 million may be axed for community services for Georgia's elderly during state budget cuts. (Source: WRDW) (WRDW)
Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 4:21 PM EDT
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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Nursing homes continue to be the hardest hit sector of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the economic crisis from the virus has Georgia lawmakers slicing and dicing state funds, including critical nursing home resources.

National estimates show one-third to as many as one-half of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are coming from senior care facilities. Budget cuts are coming while nursing homes continue to fight outbreaks.

We reported on abuse, neglect, and infection control issues inside long-term care facilities well before the pandemic, and this health crisis is just further spotlighting these ongoing problems. Problems that now will have even fewer resources to solve them.

"I couldn't even give my mom one last kiss. None of that, and it's sad," he said.

Jackson's mother, Jeannie, died in the COVID-19 pandemic while a patient at Winderemere Nursing Home in Augusta. He watched her last breath on a video feed.

Windermere is one of 24 facilities in the Augusta area battling the virus.

Meanwhile, another battle brews in the State House as Georgia lawmakers prepare to slash millions of dollars in state funding to long-term care facilities.

“It's shocking - even at the height of this pandemic the legislature is looking to restructure, even reduce the funding related to nursing homes and other senior care centers in the state of Georgia,” Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care, said.

“So, COVID is raging the long-term care industry as a whole. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that upwards of 50,000 people have died in nursing homes, according to their tracking, so we're talking a substantial hit on long-term care,” Lee said. “The spotlight is on this sector right now and the problems that residents have experienced not just currently but problems in the past that's lead up to the current pandemic and what's going to happen beyond.”

We found as much as $2 million may be axed for community services for Georgia's elderly, 12 positions eliminated from the agency that investigates elder abuse, and more funds cut from long-term care ombudsman, a position that advocates for the elderly in cases of abuse and neglect.

“These lawmakers are just oblivious. It seems like they are just sticking their heads in the sand. And instead of toughening up oversight of facilities, they seem to be going the other way,” Lee said.

And locally, we found our veterans will suffer. More than a million dollars cut from Augusta's Georgia War Veteran nursing home budget, where 11 veterans have already died from COVID-19.

Another $1.5 million proposed to be slashed from home delivery meals for senior citizens.

“If this budget goes through, it will be a very negative impact. I think that more people will suffer, more people will be ignored, more people will be injured, abused, neglected, and die because of these kinds of cuts,” Lee said. “This is why the underlying issues we saw before the pandemic has resulted in so many deaths.”

Deaths like the one that rocked Melvin Jackson's family. Deaths of loved ones, parents and grandparents, gone and their families left to wonder: could more have been done to save them from COVID-19?

The proposed cuts aren't set in stone, yet. There are still 10 days left in the session for anyone to call lawmakers to make a change.

Copyright WRDW/WAGT 2020. All rights reserved.

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