Ronald Mitchell worried about his mother’s care at a suburban Richmond nursing home long before she was swept up in one of the nation’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks. She’s bedbound and susceptible to seizures. A sore on her foot went unnoticed for so long, he said, that it led to the amputation of her leg. When he called her last month after she tested positive for COVID-19, she sounded disoriented, and he stayed on the line as she pressed a call button and waited an hour and a half for a nurse who never came. Mitchell then called Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center directly and was told that they were doing the best they could with just two nurses looking after 40 patients at a time in the coronavirus quarantine wing, the AP reports. With the death toll from the Canterbury outbreak rising to 45, Mitchell can only hope that his 62-year-old mother, now on a ventilator in a hospital, won’t be next.
Canterbury, which has surpassed the death toll of 43 in the outbreak at the Life Care Center in suburban Seattle, is the kind of facility that’s particularly vulnerable to a coronavirus wildfire that has raged through the nation’s frail, elderly long-term care populations, claiming more than 4,300 lives. More on the devastating outbreak:
- Nearly all of Canterbury’s residents rely on Medicaid funding for care of health problems that in many cases were the product of a lifetime of poverty. It lacks the amenities and space to keep people apart. And it lacks the pay to hire and keep enough staff. “A publicly funded nursing home is a virus’ dream,” said Dr. Jim Wright, Canterbury’s medical director. “It is the best place for a virus to be. People are close together. Their immune systems are compromised. It is just a tinderbox for that match.”
- Canterbury, which had about 160 residents before its outbreak, was thrown into turmoil from the first COVID-19 diagnosis on March 18. Many staff who work at multiple facilities—Wright couldn't say exactly how many—quit because they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to continue at their other jobs. Other workers began to get sick themselves. Around the same time, the second doctor who typically saw patients just stopped showing up, which Wright said had a severe impact on the ability to monitor patients.
- Wright's wife, a palliative care physician, started volunteering. Everyone at Canterbury had no choice but to take on unfamiliar tasks. “I was changing patients, cleaning beds. My administrator was delivering meal trays,” Wright said. "You pick any element, or any arena in our facility that needed to be up and running at its best and nothing was," he said.
- Exactly how the coronavirus got into Canterbury was not clear, though health officials suspect either an infected worker or someone else who came in before visitations and get-togethers were halted in mid-March.
- By the time tests were finally conducted on everyone at Canterbury about two weeks after the first confirmed case, more than half the residents infected with coronavirus—53 out of 92—showed no symptoms. “It’s impossible to build walls around something that spreads so insidiously,” said Dr. Danny Avula, the state health department’s area director.
- Another awful story from a resident's family: Kim Thompson’s phone rang before 6am Thursday, and when Wright told her that her 72-year-old mother, Minnie Brown, had died, she thought it had to be a mistake. Thompson had spoken with her mother over FaceTime two days earlier and she seemed in good health and spirits. Since that phone call, the family had received no updates from Canterbury letting them know her condition had deteriorated.
(The facility already had problems before the pandemic hit