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Washington Post story on nursing homes, pandemic highlights case of KY staffer who died of COVID

Kentucky Health News

A Kentucky example figures prominently in a national story about nursing homes, their staffs, their residents and families dealing with the pandemic.

“Burnout is stalking the country’s nursing homes,” Will England’s story begins. “Even as the coronavirus peaks yet again, remaining staffers are worn out, often fed up with the companies they work for, and yet many say they are holding on because their patients need them and have no one else to look out for them. Still, never far from their thoughts is the knowledge that they, too, could be felled by the disease. And unlike the ambulance drivers and hospital workers who have struggled to save lives during the pandemic, many say they feel no love from the outside world.”

Summit Manor

“The people in the community have no idea what we are going through,” Rebecca Rufial, a licensed vocational nurse in Paris, Texas, who works a 12-hour shift every night, in charge of two halls with 40 to 50 patients, helped by two nursing assistants, told the Post. “And no one cares, either.”

England writes, “A hospice nurse in Michigan who asked not to be identified so as not to jeopardize her current job, quit because she was angry at the way her employer had pressured her to return to work when she contracted the coronavirus herself. The nurse said she was shaken by the distress of the residents, and infuriated by the understaffing and emphasis on cutting costs at the nursing homes she visited. . . . And she hated to see nursing home companies exploit the dedication of their health-care workers. ‘They really do take advantage of the culture of nursing, which is fairly meek,’ she said.

“Dedication was all Michelle Thompson knew. She was a low-paid assistant responsible for dispensing medicines at a nursing home called Signature Healthcare at Summit Manor, in Columbia, Ky. Unmarried, 58 years old, a diabetic with high blood pressure, she was determined to carry on when the coronavirus entered the facility.”

Her sister, Denise Carver, recalled, “It was just all scary at the beginning, Nobody knew what was going on.”

When Thompson volunteered to work with covid-19 patients, “We tried to talk her out of it,” said her mother, Marlene Iames. “She said, ‘No, these people need me, and it’s my job, and I’m going to try to help them. If I don’t do it, who else is going to do it?’”

England reports, “Thompson told her family that staffers hadn’t been provided with enough face masks or proper personal protective equipment. For a week or maybe two, she kept working. On April 17 she was running a fever, thought it was the flu and called in sick. Her supervisor accused her of slacking and, Carver said, told her to come in. Thompson refused. On April 18, she learned she had tested positive for the coronavirus. On April 21, she went to the hospital, where her kidneys failed and doctors put her on a ventilator. She died April 30. . . . Officials at the nursing home and at the Signature Healthcare headquarters in Louisville did not respond to repeated requests for comment.” The company has more nursing homes in Kentucky than any other.

Summit Manor had 71 confirmed cases of the virus as of Nov. 1, with another 32 suspected, England reports: “Sixteen residents have died of the disease, as well as Thompson and another employee. Carver said it seems like everybody in Adair County, population 18,656, knew of someone who died at Summit Manor.”

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