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13 Investigates: Nurses warn of 'COVID-19 Crisis' in Greenwood nursing home

13 Investigates has been pressing for answers about COVID-19 in nursing homes since the pandemic began.

GREENWOOD, Ind. (WTHR) - 13 Investigates has been pressing for answers about COVID-19 in nursing homes since the pandemic began.

It's where we've seen many deadly outbreaks among the most vulnerable Hoosiers.

Several nurses on the front lines contacted 13 Investigates, concerned about what they say they've witnessed behind closed doors at a Greenwood facility and concerned about a lack of transparency with the public. 13 News is protecting their identities, at their request, because they fear they could lose their jobs for speaking up.

The nurses call what's happening inside Greenwood Meadows nursing home a COVID-19 crisis. They say they've witnessed the virus spread like wildfire, wing by wing.

"I worked one day and I had 16 that were positive. Two days later when I returned to work, I had 31," one nurse told 13 Investigates.

Since then, it's gotten much worse.

"I would just more or less say the whole building's contaminated," the nurse said.

According to the Johnson County Health Department's latest numbers, more than 60 percent of residents at Greenwood Meadows are COVID-19 positive.

103 cases. 14 lives lost.

COVID-19 cases in Johnson County nursing homes as of May 5, 2020. (WTHR graphic)

"I did hear the housekeeper one day over the weekend say, 'Well, they just took another one out the back door.' And I thought, 'That is morbid!' That is someone's loved one, somebody's grandma, their sister, their mom," the nurse said.

"And I am personally tired of seeing people die," another nurse told 13 Investigates. "When is it going to stop?"

Nurses say they're being told by management with American Senior Communities to stay silent about the outbreak.

"They're keeping it hush-hush," one of the nurses said. "I have heard a lot of family members telling me that they have tried to get ahold of management and nobody will call them back."

"Instead of hiding it, speak up," another nurse said. "Get help and fight it!"

Nursing homes are inherently risky for COVID-19. Several in central Indiana have had positive cases and some facilities have been transparent, sharing their numbers publicly. American Senior Communities has not, despite numerous requests for coronavirus case counts and deaths from 13 Investigates.

Nurses blame the rampant spread at Greenwood Meadows on several problems they say they've experienced.

First: a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

"If you go to the state of Indiana requirements, any resident that has tested positive is supposed to have a mask on," one nurse told 13 Investigates. "Not one resident in that facility has a mask on. Not one."

"They're out of gowns. They don't have N95 masks," another nurse explained.

"There's not enough equipment and when you go in, the next nurse is asking 'please don't put your gown in the laundry. I don't have one. May I wear your gown?' I mean It's dirty! It's been worn all day," a nurse said, "and they should be changed room to room."

"So then you're going out in your car and your dirty clothes on. And then you're going home. I'm stripping in my garage so I don't have to bring it into my house. Yeah, it's very fearful. You don't want to bring it home to your family," one of the nurses said.

They say there's also a staffing shortage.

They tell 13 Investigates several nurses left because of fear or because they became infected themselves. 13 Investigates talked by phone with two other nurses who had to leave Greenwood Meadows because they've tested positive for COVID-19.

The nurses claim the staff that remains is stretched thin.

"One nurse has been taking care of anywhere from 25-33 residents a day by herself. I'm talking sick, suffering residents that need attention," a nurse said.

"It's hard," another nurse explained. "It's sad. It's exhausting mentally, physically, hard to sleep at night."

"Are you worried about going to work every day?" 13 Investigates asked one of the nurses.

"I'm terrified," they said.

They say they fear for the residents and for their own safety, but they plan to keep working. They say it's the oath they took when they entered the nursing field.

And they say the secrecy about people's family members can't be tolerated.

"Everybody has the right to know what is going on," one nurse said.

"ASC needs to step up and get their staff and residents healthy," another nurse said. "You know, some people are condemning other nursing homes because 'Oh they have it. They have it'. No. To me, bravo. Bravo. They were willing to admit it. You know, instead of hiding it, work together to prevent it and help."

"I'm scared," a nurse said. "I don't want to bring it home to my family. But I'm not going to walk out on what I promised to do. And I promised to take care of these people and that's what I'm going to do."

After repeated requests for information, American Senior Communities did respond Tuesday afternoon to some of the questions asked by 13 Investigates.

Here's the statement they sent to 13News:

Like so many long term care providers around the world, Greenwood Meadows continues to manage the severe impact caused by COVID-19 within the facility. We are working closely with ISDH, CMS and CDC following their guidance.

Our highest priority has always been the health and safety of our residents, their families and our staff. From the outset of this pandemic, we have gone well beyond CDC guidelines and ISDH guidance to protect our residents and staff. Those measures include:

  • Restricting visitors at all of our homes
  • Screening each resident for illness daily
  • Screening all staff as they enter a building and taking their temperature
  • Requiring all staff to wear PPE at all times
  • Limiting residents to their rooms, with no group activities and no communal dining
  • Exercising best practices for infection control
  • Isolating, quarantining and cohorting residents and staff who are COVID-19 positive

It would be inaccurate to report that every resident in Greenwood Meadows has been infected with COVID-19. Uniquely and early on, American Senior Communities created its own testing strike team of nurses and partnered with a private lab to expand our testing capabilities. This strategy enhances our ability to quickly identify positive cases at Greenwood Meadows and implement isolation protocols when appropriate. Early detection is imperative to reducing the exposure risk to other residents. As the scientific community learned that people may be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, we broadened our testing to include not only residents who were showing signs and symptoms but all residents. We have tested 100% of the residents at Greenwood Meadows.

Communication with families is very important to us. Greenwood Meadows has been working very hard to communicate regularly and effectively with residents and family members regarding the novel virus. In response to the April 27th COVID-19 guidance by Governor Holcomb which was most recently updated on May 3, we are providing all information as requested by the Indiana State Department of Health to residents and designated representative under guidance and will continue to keep families informed.

Within each facility, we have an assigned staff person to be the primary contact for residents and their designated representatives. This is someone they can speak to about any concerns they may have. We also provide a secondary number, which serves as a customer service hotline, in case the primary contact is unavailable or has a full voicemail box.

We send daily communications to residents’ designated representatives, informing them of the total number of COVID-19 cases and new cases in the last 24 hours. We also discuss the actions being taken to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and how to reach a staff person if they have questions.

We are also providing contact information for the local long term care Ombudsman to every resident and resident representative as well. Anyone may contact their local Ombudsman if they feel they are unsuccessful in reaching facility staff or are not being heard.

It is would be inaccurate to say that residents who are showing advanced, life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms are not being sent to the hospital. Under the guidance of the medial director, those decisions are made with the resident and their families and consistent with the resident’s advanced medical directives. We continue to send residents to hospital as needed if in compliance and with agreement from the resident’s family.

There is not a shortage of PPE. Greenwood Meadows has an ample supply to care for their residents and have a backup supply if needed.

Staffing levels are more than adequate to care for our residents and additional recruitment efforts have been successful. We are supporting our front line staff in every way we know how.

The residents and families we serve are very important to us and we will continue to move forward with compassion, and an over-abundance of caution and quality care.