Families upset with Memphis care facility’s response to COVID-19 outbreak

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Family members are speaking out after discovering their loved ones are among the 47 residents with COVID-19 at a nursing home in the university area.

The family said it took a week before they found out about the cases from the Highlands of Memphis Health and Rehabilitation Center on Norriswood.

Nursing home advocates said family should be told, but a lot of places are hiding behind HIPPA laws. They said federal authorities have recognized this is an issue across the country, and there should be new requirements about this issue Friday.

Barbara Jordan said her 95-year-old aunt, Carrie Grant, tested positive for COVID-19 while living at Highlands of Memphis.

“I noticed that she didn’t look well,” Jordan said of seeing her aunt in a video chat last Wednesday.

The pandemic stopped all in-person visits at the care facility.

Tuesday, she didn’t get her scheduled call.

“Sat on the phone until I got someone,” Jordan said. “She told me she tested positive for COVID last Thursday.”

June Lee said her 82-year-old mother, Ida Nelson, also lives at Highlands of Memphis.

“I’ve been calling and calling, and no returned phone calls; I left messages,” Lee said. “Need to see my mom and hear her voice and see how she is doing. I’m informed she’s not doing well.”

She said she called and finally a worker admitted Wednesday her mother tested positive for COVID-19 on April 30.

“All I want is an administrator to call me and Facetime me and let me see her and see what kind of condition she’s in,” Lee said.

Highlands of Memphis is one of several senior care facilities in Shelby County battling a COVID-19 outbreak.

The health department reported Thursday that 47 patients and 11 staff are infected at the Highlands, and two people have died.

“There are so many people in there who don’t have anyone to advocate on their behalf,” Lee said.

WREG uncovered the Highland of Memphis’ most recent federal inspection report. They were cited because they did not “immediately tell the resident, the resident’s doctor and a family member of situations that affect the resident.”

Nurses didn’t inform the physician right away that a resident’s blood sugar dropped.

Surveyors also said the place didn’t “provide and implement an infection prevention and control program, … the facility failed to ensure practices to prevent the potential spread of infection were maintained … when nurses failed to properly disinfect [equipment] and failed to perform proper hand hygiene.”

The problems were reportedly corrected in December.

WREG couldn’t get through to management Thursday, but on Monday they told us they did not have a statement, and there was no outbreak, despite the health department standing by its data.

“I’m sure the residents are probably confused, scared, frustrated, along with the staff,” said Brian Lee, an advocate and executive director of Families for Better Care.

Lee said during this pandemic, authorities are only focusing on the absolute worst issues like abuse and neglect during routine inspections.

To top it off, the state health department said unless there’s a complaint about infection control prevention, “our staff would not visit the long term care facility.”

“From an advocate’s standpoint, that’s pretty scary,” Brian Lee said.

It’s also scary for family.

“We do not have any other family,” June Lee said. “It’s just me, her and my son.”

“That’s my aunt,” Jordan said. “I love her. You have to realize she belongs to someone.”

Both families said they have filed complaints.

The state said it will start testing residents and staff at no cost, hoping they can better track the spread of the virus.

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