With elderly populations in close quarters, nursing homes across the world have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, including in Bloomington.
The Golden LivingCenters facility in Bloomington, one of 23 facilities around Indiana operated by the same company, has had what appears to be one of the largest outbreaks in Monroe County.
Four long-term care facilities in the county are listed on 13 WTHR’s Indiana Long-Term Care Facility COVID-19 Statistics page, including the Bloomington LivingCenter. As of June 2, the Bloomington LivingCenter had reported 45 cases and five deaths, out of approximately 120 residents, while the other three institutions reported a total of five cases and zero deaths. Updated numbers are not available.
Additionally, at least nine Bloomington Golden Living staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, out of around 110 employees. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, as of June 16 Monroe County has only 23 confirmed COVID deaths, making the five deaths from Golden Living a significant percentage.
Two current Bloomington Golden Living staff said that they could not speak to the press, and calls and emails to the director of the Bloomington center and the media contact for statewide Golden LivingCenters went unanswered.
However, former staff members and family members of people currently living at the Bloomington LivingCenter expressed concerns about the center’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Up to now, they have consistently called me if my dad even got a vitamin shot,” said Elaine Guinn, an Indianapolis-area resident whose father, Elmer Guinn, lives at the center.
Bloomington resident Eliza Carey, whose father, James Carey, lives at Golden Living, concurred, saying that the staff are usually very responsive and tell her everything that occurs in the center.
Guinn said that she first became aware of changes on May 23, when she received a “chipper” call saying that her father had been moved to a new room.
Though she was not initially alarmed, when she called back to ask why he had been moved, she said that she had to persistently ask for an explanation until a nurse told her that his roommate had tested positive for COVID-19.
Not long after her call with the nursing home, Guinn said she posted on Facebook about her experience and it was covered in the Bloomingtonian. Former employees and other children of residents began to reach out to her about deaths and higher numbers of cases that had not been shared publicly.
“I started getting nervous at this point,” Guinn said. “I was completely shocked. They are hiding things.”
She added that the timeline of her experiences and things that Golden Living told other media sources differed, and that various promises of more communication and information had fallen through.
Carey had similar experiences with communication. She said that after finding out from a late night call that her father had tested positive for COVID-19, she tried several times to call the center back and was put on hold and never connected. She was told someone would reach out to organize a Zoom call with her father, but it took nearly a month to finally happen. Between March and June 1, she said that she had no communication with her father, who she normally calls and visits regularly.
“It’s just been so many things they could have done better,” Carey said. “I would have been more understanding if I had had more communication.”
One former employee, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said she quit after over 10 years working at the Bloomington LivingCenter because of the way the center has handled the pandemic. She said that management at the center did not alert employees right away when the first resident got sick, and when they did hold a COVID-related meeting, it was not mandatory for all employees, so many night shift workers did not attend.
When the employee eventually got tested herself, she said that her doctor advised her to stay in quarantine for 14 days, but that her boss, executive director Elizabeth Price, pressured and bullied her into coming back. She said she was told that unless an employee had a fever, they were obliged to come to work.
The employee also said that the management told employees that those working in the COVID unit would receive “hero pay,” of $200 to $300, but she did not receive it.
She also said that they initially did not have enough N95 masks or gowns, and conditions for staff were so bad that her unit manager had a panic attack and had to walk out.
“It’s been a big mess from day one,” she said. “The staff is so upset that the nurses are sitting at their desks crying."
The employee said she loved her job and the residents and was very upset about the deaths. Guinn also mentioned that prior to the outbreak, Golden LivingCenters had been “amazing” and that they had always been very accommodating and helpful, even though her father can be a difficult patient.
“I understand that they’re in a crisis, I understand that we’re in a pandemic and no one knows what to do, but the way they have been handling their communications has been unacceptable,” Guinn said. “I like to see the good in people, but I can’t see myself trusting them.”
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