Masternick Says Nursing Homes COVID-19 Cases Have Yet to Peak

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Windsor House owner John Masternick says the war on stopping the spread of the coronavirus will be won or lost in the nation’s nursing homes, and the inability to conduct widespread testing of residents is making the battle harder.

“Nursing homes need to made a priority and everyone should be tested to stop the spread,” he says. “While hospitals are past their peak, nursing homes are now beginning to peak with most outcomes being much worse.” 

The pandemic has a disproportionate effect on senior care centers, mostly occupied by those most susceptible to contracting COVID-19, the disease spread by coronavirus – frail, older residents with underlying health conditions. As numbers of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths in senior care centers increased, they were among the last tier of health care facilities to receive mass testing efforts. 

Local health departments have been responsive in helping local facilities deal with outbreaks, but there have shortages in what supplies they are able to get, Masternick says. “They can’t give away what they don’t have.” 

On Monday, Mahoning County Public Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac disputed weekend reports that more tests desperately were needed in Mahoning County. He said the state sent 700 kits last week and outreach was done to facilities. 

Tekac was referring to a release issued by Masternick and owners and operators of Briarfield, Community Skilled, Heritage Manor, Ohio Living Lake Vista, Shepherd of the Valley and Windsor House Inc., stating they are in dire need of tests and personal protective equipment in order to protect residents and staff.

Some long-term care facilities could be conducting testing through other laboratories, Tekac added.

“But that capability, here in Mahoning County, to have their employees tested as well as patients is here. Some have taken some of those test kits from our health department and we will continue to work with them,” Tekac said.

Tests were made available via local departments, as well as the state and national stockpiles, but Masternick says the number of tests at this time doesn’t meet the demand of testing all residents and staff. Masternick has been paying an outside lab, such as Quick Med to conduct testing.

“We are trying to test every patient and staff member. We found in one facility that 20 residents tested positive that were asymptomatic,” Masternick says. “If we had not tested them, we wouldn’t haven’t been known since the state’s testing protocol was if you have nine positive tests you don’t need to test anymore, just assume they’re all positive. But Quick Med is doing as much as they can as quickly as they can.”

Updated testing guidance from the state now includes residents and staff in nursing homes, assisted living centers and other congregate living sites where positive COVID-19 cases have been reported. That revision came April 22 after a coalition group sought more testing in order to identify asymptomatic carriers so facilities can identify who is positive for COVID-19 and who is not. Before the change, only those showing symptoms disease could get tested. 

“We’ve known all along that nursing homes were going to be a very high-risk place for us in Ohio as it is everywhere around this country,” Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said during Gov. Mike DeWine’s daily briefing April 13.

Senior care centers were not prioritized for widespread testing due to national shortages of tests. Acton explained if a nursing home had five positive cases for COVID-19, officials should assume everyone in that facility is positive for COVID-19 and no further testing was needed.

This test guidance protocol has frustrated Masternick since the highly contagious virus began spreading through Ohio communities. Ohio reported its first positive case March 9, but later testing revealed the first positive case for COVID-19 was Feb. 15, and the first COVID-related death occurred March 17.

“You’re going to see a big spike in numbers because we’re doing our own. To not continue testing after a certain number of patients have tested positive is a bad policy and the repercussions of ODH’s policy is going to show in a false number of nursing home residents who have COVID-19,” he says. “Urgency has not been heard as urgently as we would like it. 

Besides testing, Masternick says there is a shortage of equipment such gowns and sanitizing wipes. He says Tekac has been responsive and the local health departments have been helpful in getting them masks and gloves when available. 

“We’re grateful for what local health departments have given us. What we need are sterilizing wipes and gowns and they’re just not in the supply chain,” Masternick says. “Masks are hard to get but we can in limited quantities.”

Howland Fire Chief James Pantalone, director of Trumbull County’s Emergency Operations Center, says seven pallets of personal protective equipment came in April 24 and has been shipped to senior care centers with hotspots and others.

“I think that will carry them through for now,” the chief says. 

Pantalone explains the shipments to Trumbull County on Friday came from Ford, the auto manufacturer that retooled its assembly line to produce ventilators and personal protective gear. He said the shipment was procured by the state and included gloves, masks and/or face shields. Besides items from Ford, some disinfectants and small amount of hand sanitizer, but the number of gowns “was a little light.”

When outbreaks first began in area senior-care centers, Masternick says staffs at his facilities were going to hardware stores and buying five to seven at a time. He says they are able to buy in bulk now, if supplies are available.

“Our burn rate for masks is 500 a day and while supplies are being sent to hotspots, we will run out. Our staff is improvising on gowns and we have bought some lab coats. Some staff are going home at night and making masks,” he says.

Masternick says a freeze on admissions is placed on any facility that’s had an outbreak except for patients returning from the hospital. 

“I’m not too proud to take gowns from anywhere right now. Keep staff and residents safe. They [staff] deserve to be considered heroes,” Masternick says. “Without a doubt, this is darkest time of our industry in 61 years in this business. The greatest generation certainly does not deserve to be treated this way.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.