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Health and safety concerns at Indiana Veterans Home amid lack of COVID-19 cases

David Schrimsher, a Navy veteran, died on June 15 at the age of 71
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Posted at 2:45 PM, Jul 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-22 19:17:37-04

WEST LAFAYETTE— New health and safety concerns are emerging about the Indiana Veterans Home, a West Lafayette nursing home and long-term care facility owned by the state of Indiana government.

"IVH is the best choice for Hoosier veterans and their spouses,” according to their website.

However, the Indiana Veterans Home has an overall 2-star, below average, rating on Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website.

And when it comes to quality measures, which includes how well residents are cared for, the Indiana Veterans Home has only 1-star-- the lowest rating possible.

An Indiana woman who lost her father at the Indiana Veterans Home, as well as a state lawmaker, are urging the facility to do more COVID-19 testing and improve the facility’s care of residents.

Call 6 Investigates has learned 32 of the 164 residents, or 20%, at the Indiana Veterans Home have been tested for COVID-19 and none have tested positive.

David Schrimsher, a Navy and Air Force Reserve veteran, died on June 15 at the age of 71 after he got sick the day before with a fever, according to his daughter.

"They told me that he had a fever of almost 102 and that his heart rate and blood pressure were elevated,” said David’s daughter, Danielle Sabatini. “Never was there a mention of potential COVID. No testing, zero.”

An email from the Indiana Veterans Home shows her father was never tested for COVID-19.

His death certificate lists coronary artery disease and diabetes as the cause of death.

“I believe they’re not testing enough,” said Danielle.

Danielle said she had no idea the Indiana Veterans Home had the lowest quality measures rating.

"I can't believe I had my dad put there,” said Danielle. “I think they're hiding stuff or not doing stuff for their patients."

Rep. Karlee Macer serves on the Indiana Veterans Affairs Commission and works in the healthcare industry, and is concerned about David’s death, the facility’s ratings and the number of residents tested.

“I was shocked and devasted,” said Macer. "It scared me because when I heard there were no COVID cases with a quality assurance rating of a 1 and an overall rating of a 2, I'm wondering how this this possible? Are we testing the residents? Are we testing the staff? That's a really big part of our business."

The Indiana Veterans Home is currently allowing visitors, according to their website.

"The urgency that we should have about this is at the top for me,” said Macer. “We want to make sure everyone is safe. It's just the right thing to do."

Call 6 Investigates requested an on-camera interview with the IVH or the Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs (IDVA).

We received a statement that said they’ve tested every resident at the Indiana Veterans Home who has shown signs or symptoms of COVID-19.

32 of 164 residents have been tested, and none have tested positive.

One employee tested positive, according to the statement.

“As per guidance from the Indiana State Department of Health, all 185 staff members who work at the IVH have also been tested for COVID-19; one person did test positive,” read the IVH statement. “Staff at the IVH took immediate and protective measures to ensure neither a resident nor staff member at the IVH came in contact with that person. Per guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, that person quarantined for 14 days.”

Call 6 Investigates also asked the Indiana Veterans Home about their below-average ratings, including the overall of 2-stars.

"This is not an acceptable rating,” read the IVH statement. “Along with COVID-19 prevention, the improvement of the overall and individual rating for the IVH is top priority. These scores are cumulative over a three-year period, so it will take some time to impact and see change happen."

Rep. Macer said veterans and their families deserve better.

"I think people would be really shocked to know the facility where the family is staying in has one of the lowest ratings you can get,” said Macer. “They served our country and we have a responsibility to them.”

Danielle Sabatini is grieving the loss of her father, David.

"He knows I have a voice and I'm not afraid to use it,” said Danielle. “He would be proud of me for standing up for him."

She’s urging the Indiana Veterans Home to expand its COVID-19 testing of residents and improve how it cares for veterans and their spouses.

"I will not be silent about this,” said Danielle. “I want to stand up for the veterans. For my dad and for everybody else."

The previous Indiana Veterans Home superintendent resigned at the end of January 2020.

Joy Grow has been assigned the IVH’s interim superintendent.

Grow has her healthcare facility administrator license and has spent the last five years in administrative leadership at the IVH, according to the statement.

A search for the new superintendent is ongoing, but the search is taking longer than anticipated due to COVID-19 restrictions, the facility’s statement said.

The Indiana Veterans Home provided numbers showing a reduction in overall infections at the facility.

“Even in the midst of COVID-19, over a three-month period (March through May 2020) there has been a 34% reduction in the rate of infections at the IVH when compared to the same time period in 2019,” read the statement. “Over the same time period, there has also been a 50% reduction in deaths at the IVH.”