JERSEY SHORE – When Lisa Wileman discharged her mother, Virginia Osborne, from ManorCare, the first thing she asked for was a shower. Just over a week later, Osborne died from COVID-19.
“She hadn’t been showered in two weeks,” Wileman said. “Why wouldn’t you shower them?” She picked up her mom from the Jersey Shore ManorCare on April 28, taking her back to her home in Saint Mary’s, Pennsylvania.
When Osborne arrived to Wileman’s house the first thing she got was a shower.
“Her bottom was dirty and I know she hadn’t had a bowel movement recently,” she said.
According to ManorCare headquarters in Toledo, Ohio, “some showers were difficult due to isolation areas,” but residents received routine bathing in their rooms.
As the novel coronavirus spread across the globe, key hot spots cropped up throughout communities, and in Lycoming County the hot spot is ManorCare Health Services.
In April, the facility informed patients and family members that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.
Since then, the total cases at the facility have skyrocketed to over 70 with 20 deaths and 18 who have recovered. On May 27, Lycoming County Coroner Charles Keisling Jr. reported 166 total cases in Lycoming County and 21 COVID-19-related deaths, adding that all of them were from nursing homes – 20 at ManorCare and one at Rose View Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
‘If it gets in there, she will die’
Dixie Burnette, of Avis, visited her mother Cleda Carr, 98, in ManorCare every day for four years. When the virus hit, visitation was cut off and she didn’t see her mom for several weeks – but she called every day for an update.
“On April 29, they called me and told me she was positive,” Burnette said. It was a shock, but not a surprise to Burnette, who said she doesn’t blame the staff, who she said were short handed and overworked. “They were really good people. They just didn’t have enough of them.”
“It just went through there like wildfire,” she said.
Also a long-time resident at ManorCare Osborne had spent five years at the facility and, according to her daughter, “she liked it there.” She had friends and, until recently, didn’t want to leave.
Wileman became concerned in March as cases began to grow in Lycoming County, but it wasn’t until Easter when Osborne became scared and asked to leave that she knew it was time.
“She called me the week before they stopped letting visitors in and said she wanted to come live with me,” Wileman said.
Wileman and her family kept watching as case numbers continued to grow in Lycoming County. Information from the facility was slim.
“Most of the things we found out were either through my mother or other families,” Wileman said. She said she knew, “If it gets in there, she will die.”
‘Begged me to come get her’
Early on the morning of April 28, the phone rang at the Wilemans’ home.
“She called me and was scared because they took her roommate out in the middle of the night and she begged me to come get her,” she said. Wileman made plans and left that day to get her mom.
When she pulled up to the entrance of ManorCare, her mom was waiting outside with some nurses. She had been tested for COVID-19 that morning, but results weren’t in yet. Wileman noticed she was wheezing and had cold-like symptoms.
They drove home to Saint Mary’s and Wileman then got the call informing her that her 91-year-old mother had tested positive for COVID-19. Osborne was quarantined in their home until the following Saturday and seemed in good health.
But discharging Burnette’s mother, who had dementia and couldn’t walk, was impossible.
“I wish I could have,” she said. “I would have gotten my mother out of there.”
On the Sunday before her mother died, Burnette was allowed into ManorCare to see her. She was dressed from head to toe in personal protective equipment and walked through the now deserted halls. Floor to ceiling plastic made it obvious where the quarantined section was, but Burnette didn’t take time to stop and look around, she was on her way to her mother.
“It blew my mind away how bad she was,” Burnette said. Carr had been in her room for weeks. Shortly afterward Carr was transferred to the hospital where Burnette would only be able to see her one more time before the end.
‘She’s just gone’
Now back in Saint Mary’s, Osborne seemed to be doing well as the Wileman’s cared for her. But on Saturday something was wrong. Osborne suffered what appeared to be a stroke. Wileman panicked and called for the ambulance. Osborne was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia-like symptoms.
With care and treatment, she seemed to be doing well, sitting, eating and talking with the hospital staff. But the following Tuesday, sudden kidney failure sent her into an unresponsive state and Osborne passed away shortly afterward.
While the family couldn’t be with her, Wileman said the hospital staff sat with her the entire time, and a priest called the night before to administer last rights.
“It’s hard to remember that it happened,” Wileman said. “Cause she’s just gone.”
‘Not an easy death’
Back at ManorCare, Carr was transferred to Geisinger Jersey Shore Hospital. Even at 98 years old, she was not ready to die.
“I think she could have made it to her 100th birthday,” Burnette said.
Watching her mother suffer, unable to sit with her, hold her hand or comfort her was “tough.” After so many years, “the way she died is what bothered me … it was not an easy death,” Burnette said.
“This is not a disease to take lightly. So many people are out there thinking it’s not going to affect them. I know different.”
Allegation at the facility
Allegations of poor protective equipment and procedures and limited staff have been levied against ManorCare by some of the residents’ families, as well as local county leaders.
During a recent prayer vigil for the residents, Lycoming County Commissioner Rick Mirabito said a complete inspection of the facility should be conducted, by the state and ManorCare corporate leadership.
The facility has maintained that it’s supply chain and staffing levels are appropriate, according to Julie Beckert, assistant vice president at HRC ManorCare in Toledo, Ohio.
“Our staffing levels are good and our supply chain along with (the Department of Health) have been able to get us the supplies we need,” Beckert said. “We added universal goggles or eye shields along with our universal face mask mandate. This along with our airborne isolation unit, proper PPE use, vigilant handwashing and other hygiene protocols help contain and reduce the spread of the virus.”
Local non-profit and advocacy group Roads to Freedom: Center for Independent Living is also pushing to transition the residents of the facility into other housing. It is offering to quarantine residents in area hotels until they are able to test negative and then move into another nursing home or a residence with in-home care, according to Jodie Baney, director of programs and services.
It’s a process that, according to Baney, would normally take the center between two and six months but now is being condensed into a matter of weeks.
Beckert condemned the idea of a “non-clinical group” moving residents to area hotels, in a comment made to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.
While Beckert told On the PULSE that no families had asked to move their loved ones from the facility, Baney said Road to Freedom is working with at least 10 families so far who want their loved ones discharged.
The transition comes at no cost to family members, Baney said, adding that state and federal funds are available for food and housing. Costs for care are not yet covered, but Baney said the center will provide the upfront costs, hoping to recoup them later via government funds.
“We are not asking the family for one cent,” Baney said. Roads to Freedom asked the Lycoming County Commissioners to allocate $250,000 to the endeavour.
For Wileman, her emotions are still raw. She is heartbroken at the loss of her mother, but, above all, she said she is just mad.
“I feel so bad for everybody who is still there,” she said. “There are people down there dying alone.”
Most of all, Wileman said she took her mom home because she didn’t want her to be alone. She is thankful that her mother was able to discharge herself, giving them a few days to spend together before the end.
A graveside service was held for Osborne. Wileman couldn’t attend because she was in quarantine. However, despite caring for her mother, Wileman and her family all tested negative for the virus.
Even though Burnette no longer has family at the facility, she can’t help thinking of the other residents she got to know over the years, admitting that she doesn’t know if they were alive or dead.
“I look at the obituaries,” she said, adding that those who are left in the facility spend all day in one room, most having to share space with someone else.
“I wish the state department would have done something to help them,” she said. “I really believe that ManorCare and the staff were trying the best they could with what they had.”