A Moulton nursing home has reported two COVID-19 deaths at its facility since the hit of the pandemic, according to data released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as of Aug. 16.
NHC Moulton reported the lowest number of virus related-deaths compared to six other long-term care facilities in Lawrence, Morgan and Limestone counties, according to the CMS data. CMS listed 11 confirmed deaths for Athens Senior Recovery and Rehab Center, 10 recorded deaths for Falkville Health Care Center, and nine deaths for Decatur Health and Rehabilitation, all as of Aug. 16.
Officials say the rate of COVID-19 infections among residents is declining—a fact they attribute in large part to tight restrictions on visitation and screening of people who go in and out of the nursing homes.
Diane Dawson, whose 87-year-old mother is a resident at NHC in Moulton, said she supports the visitation rules, but she admits it took time to adjust.
“At first, I was heart-broken,” Dawson said. “I couldn’t touch or hug my mom. We made our own rules.”
Dawson said that meant communicating through the window at her mom’s room.
“The staff will raise the blinds and Mom and I will touch the glass together. I might sit outside her window 15 or 30 minutes a couple of times a week now,” she said. “Before the pandemic, I would spend all day with her. I don’t think she understands why we can’t come in her room.”
Dawson said she isn’t able to take her mom treats but can place essentials for her mother in a box outside of the center, and then a staff member will check and sanitize the items and take them to her.
NHC Moulton also allows families to communicate with patients and residents at the facility virtually, preferably via Facebook messenger calls, according to a post the nursing home made last month.
“We still have other ways calls can be made if needed; the portals used to call are just so great for the patients,” the post states, which urges callers to send a friend request to the NHC Moulton Facebook page before setting up an appointment for the phone call. “When you are ready to make a call you will simply call 256-974-1146 to reserve a time.”
John Matson, spokesman for the Alabama Nursing Home Association, said visitation is limited by federal and state orders. He said no in-person visitation of residents is available unless it is by emergency medical personnel or family members in end-of-life situations.
Virtual visitation and contact through closed windows are the main means of loved ones seeing residents, he said.
“COVID-19 remains a very serious threat to nursing home residents across the state,” Matson said. “We’re disappointed the families aren’t able to visit their loved ones. Some nursing homes are offering outside visitation. It’s a nursing home-by-nursing-home decision. This isn’t a time to let our guard down. Communities should continue to practice social distancing and wear masks.”
Matson said restoring visitation with residents and their families is a high priority, but one that will have to wait.
“The nursing homes that experienced outbreaks early on are now COVID-free or at much lower rates. And the COVID-free facilities then are now experiencing some cases,” he said. “Dealing with the pandemic is a marathon not a sprint. COVID-19 will be a challenge for a long time.”
Another social media post from NHC urges families to refer to the facility’s website for further visitation guidance and COVID-19 information.
“We appreciate your patience and understanding during this temporary restriction on visitation at our center. Prevention is our #1 priority right now,” the March post states. “We continue to work with CMS, the CDC, and local health officials to continue to protect our patients from COVID-19.”
NHC in Moulton did not immediately return calls about the COVID deaths at their facility.
The confirmed cases of coronavirus among area nursing homes are dropping.
Moulton’s NHC and Falkville Health Care had not seen a single confirmed case in the three weeks before Aug. 16, according to CMS data. During the week preceding Aug. 16, River City in Decatur reported two new confirmed cases, the lone local nursing facility with an increase that week. Decatur Health Care had three in the five weeks preceding Aug. 16.
The bed occupancy at the seven nursing homes was at 74.5%, with 799 of the 1,073 available beds filled, according to CMS. Decatur Rehabilitation’s occupancy rate is the lowest of the seven at 52.1%, with 62 of the 119 beds filled.
Falkville’s Summerford Nursing Home has the highest occupancy at 87.9%, with 190 of 216 beds filled, according to the latest data.
State Veterans Affairs spokesman Bob Horton said the 150-bed Floyd E. “Tut” Fann State Veterans Home in Huntsville had seven residents who had tested positive for the coronavirus die in the past three weeks. He did not know the hometowns of the deceased. He said residents at Tut Fann are from the region.
“Twenty-eight residents remain listed positive for the virus,” he said. He said 40 residents and 29 employees have tested positive since the pandemic began in the spring. No admissions to the veterans home have been accepted since March. He said Thursday there were 51 open beds that will be filled once conditions improve.
Kent Davis, veterans affairs commissioner for Alabama, said “very strict precautions” were placed on the veterans homes before Alabama recorded its first case in March.
He said the majority of deaths related to COVID-19 are in long-term care centers and the makeup of the veterans homes are in a “high-risk” environment. He said more than half of the veterans home residents are male and over 85.
According to ADPH data, women are more likely to contract the disease, but men are slightly more likely than women to die from it.
“We’ve had a strict no-visitation policy since March,” Davis said. “We know the older male residents are at higher risk than residents at private homes that are often made up of females, and only 22% are over 85.”
Horton and Brown said the nursing home numbers reflect those of the community where they are located.
“COVID-19 will remain a threat for our facilities as long as it is spreading in the community,” Horton said. “Even though we can’t eliminate the threat entirely, our No. 1 priority is to prevent virus infections and to protect our residents and staff. While we completely understand that these precautions can cause inconveniences to our treasured residents, families and staff, they have ultimately proven to be effective in a very tough situation.
“After the first positive case of the virus was reported April 8 at the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alex City, today all residents and employees (there) are free from the virus. This is our goal for all of our homes.”
Statewide, 5,391 residents and 2,757 employees of long-term care facilities have been infected by the virus, according to ADPH. People ages 65 and over account for 77% of the COVID-19 deaths in the state.