Indiana to begin counting nursing home COVID-19 deaths

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — In late February, North America woke up to the specter of the novel coronavirus gaining a foothold in the Pacific Northwest and marching eastward across the United States, cutting a deadly path through nursing homes and other enclosed communities before it was predicted to begin spreading into the population at large.

Now, nearly two full months after the first reports of the unfolding tragedy that took 37 lives at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, Indiana state health officials are finally ready to begin publishing statistics attesting to the pervasiveness of the infection inside of Hoosier long-term health care facilities.

“As I noted last week, we’ve had a number of outbreaks and more than 100 deaths in these facilities across the state,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box at a daily briefing from the governor’s office Monday afternoon. “We are working on a plan to provide weekly updates on those totals and hope to have more data to share on this front later this week.”

While the Indiana State Department of Health announced on April 15 there were 120 deaths among the state’s nursing home resident population, CBS4 has learned of several more fatalities since that time but cannot confirm that they have been accounted for in ISDH’s daily report.

Homewood Health Campus in Lebanon has confirmed 12 of its residents have died of the coronavirus, but the daily ISDH briefing lists only eight deaths for all of Boone County.

Bethany Pointe Health Campus in Anderson, another community managed by Trilogy Health Services, reported 30 deaths, and another Anderson nursing home recorded four more, but ISDH lists only 32 deaths total in Madison County.

Dr. Box did not address those accounting discrepancies but did say in the weeks to come state health officials will begin revising their statistics to include patients who were suspected to have died from the coronavirus but were not originally counted because of the lack of a positive test.

“What this means is that a physician listed COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death for a patient, but there was no documented positive COVID-19 test for that individual,” she said. “This will cause our death numbers to show an increase that’s higher than what we’ve typically seen. I want to make sure that everyone understands that these are not new deaths. Rather, we are capturing the deaths that have occurred really since this pandemic began.”

Tammy Bowman’s sister, Kim Blanchar, died of the coronavirus last week, days after she was transported from a long-term residential care facility in Hendricks County.

Bowman said two days after her sister was transported that nursing home officials still refused to confirm that the virus had invaded their community.

“I don’t know what they’re doing now,” she said, “but I talked to three different people before and after my sister was in the hospital, and they all said there was no COVID-19.

“There have got to be people now coming out in the news trying to bang those doors down saying, ‘Tell us, let me help my family member.’ I just don’t understand why they would hide it because there’s no benefit. What benefit could there possibly be to hide it instead of fighting and bringing in the troops and have families cry out to the state, ‘Get us more testing, more protective equipment, help us!’”

Over the weekend, President Trump issued an order that instructed nursing homes to report suspected coronavirus cases to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Why is the governor or the state health department saying we’ll leave it to the facilities to tell? Why?” asked Bowman. “Why do that? Why don’t they tell so everybody knows because obviously the facilities can’t be trusted for reason to tell the truth, so I still don’t understand what the benefit is for them to not tell the truth, but why would the state let them be in control of that? This is too big.

“We’ve got to figure this out together and get the truth out so that we can fight it.”

As of noon Monday, the ISDH daily report listed 569 deaths from the coronavirus in Indiana as state officials continue to predict Marion County’s patient surge will hit before the end of the month with the rest of the state to follow by mid-May.

One national model predicts 903 Hoosiers will die of the disease by late May.

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