By Crusader Staff
As new data shows over 40 percent of the state’s coronavirus infections are in nursing homes, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson (District 1) and community leaders held a news conference Wednesday, May 6, to call on the county, state and federal government to implement a “Save Our Seniors” crisis management plan to protect elderly residents in nursing facilities across the state.
Johnson was joined by family members of residents at a Westchester nursing home where some 70 percent of seniors have been infected with the virus, and a dozen have died from COVID-19.
“Far too many people are dying of coronavirus related symptoms that should have otherwise been protected–and many of them come from our communities,” Johnson told the Crusader. The ‘shelter in place’ order has been intact for nearly two months. No residents of any nursing home, rehabilitation center or controlled agency should be contracting the disease at this point. Staff in many of these places are overworked, and surely aren’t receiving the supplies they need to protect themselves.
“This pandemic is raving the Black community,” he continued, “and those of us who can fight must stand up for those of us who can’t. Our seniors matter, too. I’m calling for an immediate investigation to what is happening in these facilities.
The commissioner was also joined by Loretta Brady, president, Westchester Health and Rehabilitation Center Family Residents Council, whose mother allegedly contracted COVID-19 while living in the facility. Others included Londa Claybon, daughter of Westchester resident Carrie Clayborn who recently died after contracting the disease, Rev. Dr. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Church-Chicago and Wallace “Gator” Bradley of United in Peace.
The Westchester facility, which has been flagged for abuse by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and posts the lowest Medicare rating, is a prime example of why action at all government levels is needed to protect nursing home staff and residents during the pandemic.
Residents and staff tested positive for coronavirus and it spread throughout the facility in mid-March. Compounding matters, the administration failed to inform family members in a timely manner that their loved ones possibly had been exposed to the virus.
Johnson is calling for a comprehensive, four-point Save Our Seniors action plan that would activate emergency measures at the county, state and federal government to protect nursing home residents and the staff who are on the frontlines providing care for seniors.
The plan calls for increased state oversight of nursing facilities; additional staff resources and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for workers, supported by Federal CARES Act funds and $240 million in state funds already allocated to nursing homes; 15 days paid sick leave and hazard pay for nursing home staff; and possible fines and receivership for facilities with chronic public health violations.
“The failures at nursing facilities like the Westchester Health and Rehabilitation Center are putting the lives of patients and staff at risk as the coronavirus rips through Illinois nursing homes,” Johnson said. “Owners of these facilities are putting profits over patient and staff safety. We need every level of government to take swift action to protect our seniors and the frontline staff who care for them during this crisis.”