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Nursing Home Resident’s COVID-19-Related Death Raises Questions

Even amid finalizing funeral arrangements and remembering the deceased’s penchant for gifts and vivid childhood memories, family members of the late Gloria Bea Johnson said they continue to search for answers about the circumstances of her April 15 coronavirus-related death — particularly why staff at Stoddard Baptist Global Care at Washington Center for Aging Services, a local nursing home and Johnson’s residence of nearly a decade, hadn’t immediately notified family members of her admission to the hospital two days prior.

In the weeks since Johnson’s death, other concerns that some bereaved family members have expressed involve Johnson’s medical condition since late March, when they said they last had a phone conversation with the quarantined resident. They also said they questioned whether staff members at Stoddard Baptist Global Care at Washington Center for Aging Services notified the family members of other residents about Johnson’s COVID-19 case and previous cases they said might have occurred on the campus.

“I never received a call from the nursing home. They should have called me right away,” said Malaika Hayward, a Northeast resident and Johnson’s niece who said she’s the nursing home’s primary contact for Johnson.

Hayward told The Informer that upon Johnson’s admission to Washington Hospital Center, doctors told her family that she had pneumonia and showed symptoms of the novel coronavirus, for which she would later test positive.

Hayward and her mother have since embarked on an effort to secure Johnson’s medical chart from Stoddard Baptist Global Care at Washington Center for Aging Services to get a sense of what happened since they had last spoken to Johnson.

In recounting the events of April 13, when her aunt had been transferred to Washington Hospital Center, Hayward stressed that neither she or her mother heard anything from Stoddard Baptist Global Care until well after hospital staff called her mother.

From April 15 until April 23, when Hayward said she finally received a COVID-19-related automated voice message that Stoddard Baptist Global Care sent to all residents’ family members, she recalled learning more, in casual phone conversations with lower-level nursing home staff members, about what she described as lapses in communication between the hospital and the nursing home, and the nursing home and some lower-level staff members.

“Aunt Gloria got to Washington Hospital Center four in the morning, [but] I got a call from a nurse at the nursing home at 9:45 a.m.,” Hayward said as she explained what transpired after first learning about her aunt’s condition from her mother. “I didn’t even give them a chance to say anything. [Washington Hospital Center] thought a nurse at the nursing home called me. They’re supposed to call me. They call for a scratch, rash, or open wound, but they wouldn’t call and tell me this.”

Stoddard Baptist Global Care Responds

In response to an Informer inquiry, a Stoddard Baptist Global Care representative attributed the five-hour time window between the late Johnson’s April 13 admission to Washington Hospital Center and an attending nurse’s contact with Hayward to the facilitation of administrative procedures, including confirmation of Johnson’s actual location and documentation of the transfer and the circumstances surrounding it.

In their statement, Stoddard Baptist Global Care said that Johnson exhibited no signs of COVID-19 in the 30 days leading up to her hospital admission. As had also been done with the facility’s more than 250 residents, nursing homes staff members conducted three daily body temperature checks on Johnson. They said records indicated nothing out of the ordinary, other than an observation of Johnson frantically washing her hands on the morning of April 13.

Per guidelines outlined by Stoddard Baptist Global Care, residents experiencing an elevated temperature of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, appetite loss, and other COVID-19 symptoms undergo testing with the approval of the familial contact. Within a two-day period, the nursing home establishes contact with the family and transfers the resident to a special unit.

Upon confirmation that a resident or staff member contracted the coronavirus, Stoddard Baptist Global Care mails letters and schedules robocalls to update family members about on-campus conditions, while providing updates to the family council president.

No determination had been made of whether other Stoddard Baptist Global Care residents or staff members contracted the coronavirus.

Examining the Broader Implications

Johnson’s death happened as nursing home watchdogs across the United States have bemoaned the increased likelihood of elder negligence amid the cancellation of family visits and the federal government’s suspension of health and safety inspections and family visits.

On April 19, the federal government formalized requirements that nursing homes report COVID-19 cases to families and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Since mid-March, when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) declared a public health state of emergency, Stoddard Baptist Global Care and other local nursing homes ceased family visits and implemented guidelines issued by the CDC and Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services for long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

Both documents prioritized immediate identification and management of severe illness, and communication with the local health department in cases where respiratory illnesses increase.

At the time of her death, Johnson suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes and schizophrenia. Even so, family members said they didn’t anticipate any issues as far as maintaining contact with her because of their rapport with Stoddard Baptist Global Care and Johnson’s ability to communicate.

“I didn’t know there was anything wrong with her,” said Constance Porter, Johnson’s younger sister and Hayward’s mother. “I’m wondering why she was in the hospital. Obviously, she was very sick before the nursing home decided to call for an ambulance. I felt that she shouldn’t have had to wait until she was in respiratory distress. The Stoddard Baptist Global Care nursing home should’ve offered her a higher degree of medical help being that Gloria was in their care.”

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