Breaking News
More () »

As COVID cases spike in nursing homes across Indiana, state will deploy National Guard to help test seniors

The announcement to deploy National Guard staff into Indiana nursing homes underscores just how seriously state officials are taking the latest surge.

INDIANAPOLIS — This week, when the Boone County Health Department announced 37 residents and staff at Signature HealthCare at Parkwood tested positive for COVID-19, and another four residents at the Lebanon nursing home had died, the news brought back some painful memories.

“We've seen it before,” said Boone County Health Department educator Claire Houghton. “Unfortunately, COVID kinds of sweeps through long term care facilities like wildfire.”

In Indiana, where nearly 60 percent of the state’s 3,790 COVID-19 deaths are linked directly to the state’s long-term care facilities, word of a new coronavirus outbreak inside a nursing home should come as no surprise.

What does surprise Houghton is to learn just how many outbreaks are now taking place.

“Oh, I had no idea there were that many,” she told 13News, after 13 Investigates informed her that dozens of Indiana nursing homes are now experiencing a significant uptick in new cases. And the new outbreaks are spread across every region of the state.

This list is just a sample of nursing homes that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks in the past two weeks, according to the state data reviewed by 13News. The number alongside each facility includes positive cases for both residents and staff:

  • Cedar Creek Health Campus, Lowell 29
  • ASC Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon 33
  • ASC Trailpoint Village, South Bend 33
  • Ossian Health Care Center, Ossian 34
  • ASC Creekside Village, Mishawaka 35
  • Signature Healthcare Parkwood, Lebanon 41
  • Sanctuary at Holy Cross, South Bend 41
  • Albany Health Care, Albany 42
  • Woodbridge Health, Logansport 52
  • Majestic Care, Connersville 55
  • Good Samaritan, Evansville 61
  • Forest Park, Richmond 62

Wednesday afternoon, state health officials acknowledged they need to try to stay ahead of a pandemic that's already killed more than 2,200 nursing home residents in Indiana.

RELATED: Indiana coronavirus updates: Peru schools go virtual through Nov. 5; Mask mandate to continue for "foreseeable future"

“While we saw cases decline for a while, we are now experiencing a surge in COVID in our long term care facilities, which is why we are taking the additional steps to protect our most vulnerable users,” said Dr, Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the Indiana State Department of Health. “Therefore, the state will be sending the Indiana National Guard to all long-term care facilities to assist with testing and reporting to allow existing facility staff to focus on patient care.”

The announcement to deploy National Guard staff into Indiana nursing homes underscores just how seriously state officials are taking the latest surge, and just how big of a threat COVID continues to pose to long-term care facilities. The National Guard effort will begin Nov. 1, with nursing homes experiencing a current outbreak receiving the first help.

In addition to bringing in support from the Indiana National Guard, Weaver announced the state will also:

  • Hire clinical staff from the state's (retired) health care reserve workforce to assist long-term care facilities.
  • Send more personal protective equipment to nursing homes, such as gloves, gowns and N95 masks.
  • Require all Indiana nursing homes to undergo more infection control training.
  • Allow hospital patients to be discharged directly to their homes instead of to a long-term care facility.

“These measures are intended to not only protect residents of these facilities, but will also provide some relief to the staff who have been working around the clock to help care for them,” Weaver said.

This week, the state health department also updated its guidance and protocols for nursing homes dealing with COVID-19. While facilities are supposed to suspend indoor visitation if they are dealing with a current COVID-19 outbreak, nursing homes have more discretion to maintain outdoor visiting.

“All facilities are mandated to provide outdoor visitation. Health Facility Administrators (HFA) and Residential Care Administrators (RCA) have the discretion to prohibit outdoor visitation if they have an outbreak and while outbreak testing continues. If there are circumstances that the facility feels they can continue outdoor visitation and maintain safety for residents, staff and visitors, the HFA or RCA may make that decision,” the guidance states. If there continue to be a high number of COVID spikes in nursing homes, that policy could change, although determining when to curtail visitations at nursing homes across the state is a challenging task.

“I don’t think there’s any easy solution to that,” said Houghton. “It’s not always a one-size-fits-all solution.”

Before You Leave, Check This Out