Coronavirus In Ohio: Some Nursing Homes Voluntarily Taking More COVID-19 Patients

Aug 17, 2020

A Franklin County nursing home has the largest number of cumulative COVID-19 cases of any long-term care facility in the state. That’s because it is one of several facilities voluntarily admitting COVID-19 patients.

More than 9% of Ohio’s COVID-19 cases, and 70% of deaths, are in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living centers.

The facility with the highest number of cases is called McNaughten Pointe, on Columbus’ East Side. They’ve reported over 120 cases and counting.

But a spokeswoman for McNaughten Pointe says that's not actually because they're experiencing an outbreak. Rather, they are actively taking in COVID-positive patients from nearby hospitals or other facilities, and housing them in two dedicated units to "serve their community." 

They declined WOSU's request for an interview, but in an emailed statement a spokeswoman says the COVID units are separated from other residents. Employees who work the COVID units do not work in the rest of the facility.  

"The facility has recovered many of these residents and they returned home or to their previous nursing facility," the statement reads. 

It's something that several facilities across the state are doing, and Ohio Medicaid director Maureen Corcoran says some of them are being incentivized.

“Because of COVID, we created a special designation that nursing homes could apply for, that has higher reimbursement rates," Corcoran says.

These designated facilities are called Health Care Isolation Centers, and they have the bed capacity and specialized staff to take care of COVID-19 patients. That higher Medicaid reimbursement helps make sure people who did not live in a nursing home could still get into one if they contract COVID-19.

“Maybe they were at home, broke their hip, went to the hospital, but then found out they had COVID,” Corcoran says. “We knew we would have a really difficult time finding somebody who would be willing to take them, to admit them.”

There are only 13 Health Care Isolation Centers in the state, none of which are in Central Ohio. McNaughten Pointe is not one of them.

Corcoran says another motivation for taking in COVID-positive seniors is keeping occupancy high. Many long-term care facilities in Ohio have seen at least a 10% reduction in occupancy.

“When we stopped doing a lot of surgery, it meant that nursing homes who were doing more of this kind of rehabilitative care, they experienced a bigger drop,” she says.

McNaughten Pointe has the third-largest resident population of Franklin County’s nursing facilities.

Pete Van Runkle from the Ohio Health Care Association says if facilities are going to voluntarily take on COVID-19 patients, they need to be transparent with families so they aren’t alarmed at the rising number of cases in the facility.

“The more you communicate and explain what is going on to anyone, the better that they understand and the less likely they are to think there is something bad afoot," Van Runkle says.

He says that is only exacerbated by the lack of visitation at some facilities. After months of closed doors, Ohio began allowing visitations again at nursing homes and long-term care facilities in July, but only outdoors. And not everyone is even doing that yet.

“No one was allowed in, no one was allowed in,” says Vickey Kidd, whose mom Norma Ann Carter was a resident at McNaughten Pointe. “They could have done anything. That’s what makes me so upset.”

A spokeswoman for McNaughten Pointe says they kept families informed, but Vickey Kidd says it was difficult to get answers about her moms’ condition.  

“They told me that she had tested positive,” Kidd says. “So the next day I tried to get a hold of them to find out what they were doing. Well, I called and no one answered, no one answered.”

Eventually, Kidd got ahold of a nurse.

“I said, ‘Is she having a hard time breathing?’ I said, ‘How is she doing today?’ And they’re like, ‘No, she’s holding her own.’” Kidd says. “And the very next day she passed away.”

McNaughten Pointe also has had the most COVID-19 deaths of any nursing home in the county, 26, and Norma Ann Carter was one of them. Kidd doesn’t know if her mom was ever put on a ventilator, or transferred to a hospital for further care. McNaughten Pointe declined to comment. 

A spokeswoman for McNaughten Pointe says at least 75% of their cases were people admitted with COVID-19. But the latest self-reported numbers from the CDC show about 50% of the facility's case numbers are from admissions, which would mean 50% of their cases originated inside the facility. They declined to comment on the discrepancy. 

"We are doing everything we can to ensure we reduce the spread of COVID-19, including staying in very close communication with local and state health officials to ensure we are taking all the appropriate steps," the statement reads. 

The spokeswoman says they are taking those steps while also trying to ensure that COVID-positive seniors have a place to go.