State not tracking all COVID-19 deaths at elderly homes

Target 8

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — The COVID-19 pandemic has helped claim the lives of 11 elderly residents at Clark at Keller Lake.

But that number won’t show up on the state’s list of nursing home deaths, which is updated daily.

That’s because Clark at Keller Lake is an adult foster care home for the elderly, and the state has yet to release any numbers for those kinds of facilities.

While the state is reporting 2,002 COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes, nobody knows how many have died at the thousands of other facilities for the elderly, including adult foster care homes and homes for the aged.

“I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’d suggest that it’s a pretty high number,” said Clark Retirement Community President and CEO Brian Pangle.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services requires all homes for the elderly — from nursing homes to assisted living centers — to report COVID-19 cases, including deaths, said agency spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin.

But while nursing homes are complying, she figures about a quarter of the other facilities are not.

There are 4,500 licensed adult foster care and homes for the aged in Michigan, along with up to 2,000 unlicensed assisted and independent living centers, Sutfin said.

“We do not have estimates on deaths at these facilities at this time,” Sutfin said in an email response to Target 8. “We have not had consistent data reporting from these facilities, nor has there been data validation conducted of the reports we have received. We estimate we are receiving information from about 25% of these facilities and are currently working on strategies to increase reporting compliance to ensure we have accurate data before reporting this information publicly.”

Pangle said his office has reported its cases to the state.

“Whatever the state does with that information, I don’t have any control over that,” Pangle said.

A death certificate for a Clark at Keller Lake resident lists COVID-19 as a cause of death.

While Clark has a small nursing home in Grand Rapids with no deaths, the pandemic has hit its adult foster care home, Clark at Keller Lake, hard.

“For the families, for the loved ones, it’s hard,” Pangle said, choking back tears.

In fact, Clark at Keller Lake has had as many deaths as the third hardest hit nursing home in Kent County.

Samaritas Lodge in Grand Rapids has had the most in Kent County with 33.

“We have been very transparent with our own residents and families and staff with every COVID-positive resident we’ve had, all of our deaths,” Pangle said.

A death certificate for a Clark at Keller Lake resident lists COVID-19 as a cause of death.

Part of the challenge is how adult foster care homes are set up, Pangle said.

“It’s an environment that was intentionally developed around a home-like environment, so the infection protocols and procedures that are necessary in skilled nursing aren’t as necessary in assisted living,” he said. “That’s changing for all the obvious reasons.”

Pangle said assisted living centers need the kind of help that the federal government is giving nursing homes.

“There are more older adults in assisted living today than there are who live in skilled nursing and that’s where we need more federal state support,” he said.

Pangle fears that a resurgence in the fall and winter could lead to shortages of personal protection equipment at homes for the elderly.

“Hats off to our governor, hat’s off to the Kent County Health Department — they’re doing a great job for us, but we need more federal support,” he said.

In a statement to Target 8, the Health Care Association’s Michigan Center for Assisted Living, a lobby group, recommended all homes for the elderly report their cases to the state.

It also recommended mandatory COVID-19 testing for all residents and workers — not just those at nursing homes — to help stop the spread.

“The state has not made testing of residents and staff in these settings mandatory, but it is highly recommended,” Michigan Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Linda Lawther said in an emailed statement.

“MCAL believes that testing is an incredibly useful tool to protect residents and staff. Quick and accurate results allow for swift action to isolate residents and assure that infected staff are quarantined,” Lawther continued. “Unfortunately, all types of congregate living settings are extremely vulnerable to this virus. Testing and reporting information will help in the work to contain its impact.”

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