31 COVID-19 deaths at GR nursing home, most in West Michigan

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of F. Ryder Overstreet expected him to live longer at Samaritas Lodge nursing home in Grand Rapids, maybe long enough to watch one more Indianapolis 500 race on TV.

He had gone to the race 68 straight years, a streak broken a few years back only because of his age.

An undated courtesy photo of J. Ryder Overstreet at the Indy 500.

“We didn’t understand why he got this so quickly and died,” his daughter, Jill Calvert, said.

The 86-year-old grandfather, an Alzheimer’s patient who lived in a private room at Samaritas Lodge, 1950 32nd St. SE east of Kalamazoo Avenue, died June 18. The death certificate lists the cause of death as COVID-19 pneumonia.

Her dad is among 31 Samaritas Lodge residents who have died COVID-19-related deaths, the most of any nursing home in West Michigan, state records show.

It ranks sixth among nursing homes in the state for COVID-19 deaths. The top five are in the Detroit area and have more beds than Samaritas Lodge.

“It upsets me,” Calvert said. “My daughter is very upset. She was very close to my dad, so it’s very hurtful that he had to go in this way, that maybe it could have been prevented.”

At Samaritas Lodge, 76 residents have tested positive, along with 24 workers at the home, some in the last few days, records show.

Eight of the deaths were reported since early June, the latest on July 4.

“If I knew that it was going to turn into what it did, I would have tried find a way to get him out of there and bring him home for a while until this is over,” the daughter said. “I didn’t know it was that severe there.”

An undated courtesy photo of F. Ryder Overstreet.

‘PEOPLE ARE LITERALLY DYING WHILE WE’RE TRYING TO FIGURE THIS OUT’

Samaritas Lodge has had nearly as many COVID-19 deaths as all other nursing homes in Kent County combined. Records show 70 nursing home patients have died in seven Kent County homes.

AARP of Michigan Director Paula Cunningham said she would not send a loved one to a home with 31 COVID-19 deaths.

“No. I would not,” Cunningham said. “I’d quit my job and stay home if I had to, but I would not do that.

“This is not rocket science,” she said. “We just need to figure this out. People are literally dying while we’re trying to figure all this out, and that’s not acceptable.”

It’s not clear why the virus hit Samaritas Lodge so hard. The home passed a federally required infection survey in April. But state inspection reports show 50 violations over the last three years, including four for infection control, and more than $38,000 in fines.

A spokesman for the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs says the agency sent a team of inspectors to the home last week to investigate. A report on its findings was not available.

The federal government require states inspect nursing homes when COVID-19 cases hit certain levels, including 10 or more deaths. So far, more than 80 homes have hit that mark, most near Detroit. About a third of the more than 6,000 COVID-19-related deaths in Michigan have come from nursing homes.

“They’re very alarming, and it’s one area that I don’t think anyone in the nation has completely figured out yet in terms of a national strategy or a best strategy for nursing homes,” the Michigan AARP’s director said.

She questions whether hard-hit nursing homes are doing enough to control infections.

“We’re hearing across the nation that nursing homes still don’t sometimes have the proper PPE, protective equipment, for their staff and or their patients,” Cunningham said.

‘HARD-PRESSED’ TO EXPLAIN PROBLEMS AT NURSING HOMES

The state long-term care ombudsman who represents residents at Samaritas Lodge confirmed that the home for a time used trash bags as gowns for personal protection.

“If that’s all you have, that’s all you have, and I guess I have to appreciate the fact they were trying to do what they could with what they had available. But that wasn’t their go-to, it was just more that there wasn’t any to be found,” ombudsman Kaye Scholle said.

She said relatives of some Samaritas Lodge residents have asked her to explain how they caught coronavirus.

“I’ve had individuals say, ‘Why?'” she said. “‘I was able to keep my loved ones safe at home, and they go there and they get this.’

“To pinpoint, we are hard-pressed to say that this is the reason,” she said. “Of course, I would say infection control, we always have to look at that. Could they have done better? Was there a failure in that?”

She also wonders if it had to do with the high number of dementia patients staying there.

“They can’t process why they might have to wear a mask, why we need them to wash their hands again,” she said.

She also said “probably,” when asked if it could have just been bad luck.

WHAT’S HAPPENING AT SAMARITAS NOW

Samaritas is a faith-based, nonprofit health and human services agency. Nursing home officials sent Target 8 a statement that they have followed all county, state and federal COVID-19 guidelines.

The home in late June replaced an administrator and the director of nursing, though its statement said the moves had nothing to do with the quality of care. The former director of nursing refused to comment.

A source at the home said it recently started mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing for residents and staff, which has been ordered by the state. The source said the home is half-empty after it sent most COVID-19 patients to state-sanctioned centers.

The daughter of COVID-19 victim Ryder Overstreet still can’t understand how he caught it. He was in a private room and couldn’t get around on his own.

Ryder Overstreet with wife, Julie, in undated photo. They celebrated their 61st anniversary just days before he died.

“I assume he was being treated the way he should have been, away from all the other people. He was not mobile, so obviously it had to have been a staff member that unfortunately had it and maybe not have known,” she said.

She worries about the residents still there.

“I just hope they’re OK because they can’t fend for themselves,” she said. “Sad.”

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT AT NURSING HOMES

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in June issued an executive order creating the Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force. She’s asked for a recommendation by Aug. 31 for an “action plan on how to prepare nursing homes for any future wave of COVID-19 cases.”

“You ask yourself not only how do we make it better now, but how do we make it better in the future for the next pandemic, or the next wave of something?” said the AARP’s Michigan director.

The AARP director said residents should question nursing homes about whether anyone has tested positive for COVID-19, how often they test, how often they disinfect, the steps they take to stop the disease from spreading and how they can find a way to allow safe visits.

“Ask them, can you have a virtual visitation? And what’s the process for that? We need that second set of eyes on nursing homes so people can see what’s going on,” Cunningham said.

AARP is pushing the federal government to redirect some Medicaid money to home- and community-based services — like those that help with food and medicine — to keep more of the elderly out of nursing homes.

Thursday statement from Samaritas:

“At Samaritas, we have no greater responsibility than the health and safety of those in our care. We have taken all required measures to protect our residents and staff from COVID-19. This includes restricting visitation, limiting contact among residents and staff, implementing strict new infection control policies as recommended by the CDC and the Kent County Health Department, and conducting now-weekly on-site COVID-19 testing of residents and staff as required under the executive order issued by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“While most of our locations, including our independent living and assisted living communities, have been spared, we have had a significant cluster of COVID-19 cases at our skilled nursing location, the Lodge, on our Grand Rapids senior living campus. When several residents tested positive concurrently, we recognized the need to isolate and quarantine for safety, and transported several residents to COVID specific “hubs” as directed by the State of Michigan.

“Overall, 15 COVID-19 positive residents passed away while in our care at the Lodge, and half of those were hospice residents. Five residents passed away in the hospital, and an additional 13 residents expired after being admitted to the hub skilled nursing facilities. Because of state requirements, those deaths were all attributed to Samaritas.

“We are working closely with the health department and area health care providers to care for those affected and mitigate any further spread within the community. We have worked closely with Doctors Without Borders in all three of our skilled nursing facilities, and they have noted our exemplary practices that they will be using to share with and train other nursing communities on best practices related to COVID-19.

“These have been tough times and our hearts also go out to all our residents and their families who have been impacted by this terrible virus – from those who have lost their lives or become gravely ill to all those who have been unable to be near loved ones at this time. We want to assure residents, families, staff and the community at-large that we will continue to do whatever we can to remain transparent and provide the best care possible for our residents under these very difficult circumstances.”

Earlier statement from Samaritas Chief Operating Officer Kim Thompson:

“At Samaritas, the health and safety of our senior residents and staff members has been and will continue to be our first priority. For that reason, we have followed all county, state and federal guidelines surrounding COVID-19 and have worked in lockstep with the Kent County Health Department, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs throughout all phases of the pandemic. While we cannot address questions regarding specific employees, we can state unequivocally that no personnel moves during the pandemic have been made as a result of the quality of care dedicated to the treatment of our residents.”

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