INDIANAPOLIS — The democratic candidate for governor says Indiana is not doing enough to protect our most vulnerable from COVID-19.
Sixty percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have happened in long term care facilities, and Dr. Woody Myers says the numbers are proof the state needs to do better.
WRTV Investigates has been tracking concerns in nursing homes since the beginning of the pandemic.
Every day, about two dozen nursing home residents die from the virus, and since the beginning of the pandemic 1,849 long term residents have died—making up 60% of the state’s total deaths but only 7% of positive cases.
"I believe very strongly we aren't doing all we should do, we haven't done all we should have done," said Dr. Myers.
Myers is a physician and former Indiana State Health Commissioner who is running for governor.
“The state didn’t facilitate quickly enough the transportation of the supplies to our nursing homes, so that was an issue,” said Myers. “Too many couldn’t find the supplies they needed.”
While the state tested nearly all nursing home staff in June and August, it has not tested all long term care residents.
Dr. Myers said more widespread and frequent testing of residents is needed to curb future outbreaks.
"It makes me angry that we didn't respond better,” said Dr. Myers. “Our testing resources should really be concentrated in places where the virus is most prevalent. We know that our nursing home patients are at the most risk, so they should get more testing resources. "
Myers’ plan also calls for the following:
- Create a task force for COVID-19 long-term care preparedness to determine best practices as recommended by advocates
- Update Department of Health’s reporting system and create mandated uniformed reporting requirements
- Increase testing for patients and staff across the senior care system by refocusing the Optum testing and contact tracing capabilities to our nursing homes where the problems grow worse by the hour
- Decrease the wait time for test results through greater efficiency and increased capacity to meet the need
- Ensure all nursing home healthcare workers and aides have access to medical-grade personal protective equipment to safely care for patients
- Require the infection controls teams at each facility to review and act on testing results every day and ensure that testing protocols are followed without exception
- Develop a multi-faceted plan for COVID-only skilled nursing facilities to support care and recovery for elderly patients
- Oppose efforts to enact blanket lawsuit immunity for nursing homes or long-term care facilities from negligence during the COVID-19 health crisis
- Enhance whistleblower protections to ensure whistleblower confidentiality
"We can organize ourselves better to manage this pandemic in a way that would help reduce unnecessary deaths of the people we love,” said Dr. Myers.
The federal government is sending testing kits to long term care facilities throughout Indiana.
"We can cohort and separate them whether it's a staff member or resident, and we know we need to do additional testing,” said Dr. Kris Box, Indiana State Health Commissioner on Wednesday. “So the ability to have that on site and being able to respond very quickly makes a big difference versus the 24-36 hour lag period of having that test sent away."
Dr. Box said the state is working on a plan that would allow facilities to do all their COVID-19 testing in house.
The state tested 36,000 LTC care staff members earlier this summer.
“We are currently in the middle of a second wave of staff testing and have tested nearly 18,000 staff so far and expect to wrap up testing late next week,” said Megan Wade-Taxter, spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health in an email to WRTV. “Testing staff is beneficial, because we know that many cases that entered long-term care facilities were brought in by staff who weren’t aware they were ill.”
WRTV also reached out to Governor Holcomb and his campaign for a response to Myers’ plan.
"Through every step of this global pandemic, Governor Holcomb has prioritized the health of Hoosiers - including those who call long-term care facilities home, their families and our healthcare workers,” read the statement. “While Woody advocates for more bureaucracy, Governor Holcomb continues to provide the necessary support and resources to help stem the impact of this pandemic on our vulnerable communities."
The Indiana Health Care Association says throughout the pandemic, residents have been tested for a variety of reasons – if they are symptomatic, are suspected to have COVID-19 due to close contact with an infected person, to determine the end of transmissions based precautions per the CDC guidelines, and when a resident is newly admitted.
“Residents can be tested more than once throughout their care based on guidance from state and federal public health experts,” said IHCA president Zach Cattell in an email to WRTV.
As of September 2, 2020, a new federal regulation requires testing of all residents and staff when one new case of COVID-19 is found within a nursing facility.
“This testing must take place every 3-7 days until no new positives are found,” said Cattell. “To date, testing has come from a combination of facility and state resources, though most of the testing has been coordinated by facilities beyond initial outbreak testing assistance from the state when available.”