I-TEAM: Nursing homes may soon prohibit visitors to stem the potential tide of coronavirus

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

Families may soon be prohibited from visiting loved ones in nursing homes.

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Families may soon be prohibited from visiting loved ones in nursing homes.

This week federal and industry leaders are asking nursing homes to limit or even stop visitations in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. The virus has proven to be the deadliest with people over the age of 80.

Healthcare experts say it's much easier to prevent the virus than to treat it. In nursing homes, prevention is key.

We went to find out if our local facilities equipped to handle infectious diseases and viruses.

Valencia Stephens would rather us remember her daughter, Tradetta, the way she was than the way she is now.

“Well, she was in a car crash,” Stephens said.

Tradetta suffered a traumatic brain injury at the age of 18. She's completely reliant on the staff at Comfort Creek Nursing Home and Rehab in Jefferson County. Her mother constantly worries her daughter's care now more than ever.

“I am sick to my stomach,” Stephens said. “What’s going to stop the virus getting into this facility or any other facility and just spread.”

Congress is worried, too.

"Obviously the elderly are the most vulnerable and those with a compromised [immune system] and we wanted to make sure they knew the new requirements from Health and Human Services in regards the prevention of this virus,” Rep. Rick Allen said.

How equipped are our local nursing homes to handle an infectious disease? To answer that, the I-Team spent a week combing through hundreds of state and federal records in Georgia and South Carolina.

We found 33 nursing homes in our two-state region, serving more than 3,200 patients -- most of whom are elderly or medically fragile.

We found 40 percent of the 33 nursing homes failed to practice acceptable infection control practices over the last three years.

That's 14 out of the 33 -- failing for things like not cleaning the glucose testing device before and after use, leaving a patent's catheter tubing lying on the floor, failing to properly dispose of a soiled adult brief, and leaving urine collection bag on the floor too.

We dug deeper into the data and found 60 percent of our 33 nursing homes are currently understaffed by federal standards, meaning more than half of our facilities don't even have enough staff for daily care needs.

“We are very concerned,” Tony Marshall from the Georgia Health Care Association said. “The coronavirus has been particularly a risk for the frail and the elderly.”

Marshall says nursing homes also lack vital medical supplies like masks, gloves and gowns. This week his organization began urging facilities to limit or restrict visitation.

Nineteen patients have died so far in one Seattle nursing home from coronavirus.

"I am worried about her too because she has a health issues,” Stephens said.

The I-Team checked. Comfort Creek does not have any infectious control violations, but we found the nursing home, like many in the CSRA, is severely understaffed.

Limits or restrictions on visitation are optional at this point.
However, if a community nearby had a case of the coronavirus, then health officials would most likely enforce stricter rules on visitation.

Georgia Health Care Association says families should consider communicating with their loved through FaceTime or Skype.

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