OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — More than a thousand Nebraska long-term care residents have died during the pandemic, representing about 45% of all coronavirus deaths in the state.
There is hope. There were 1,037 COVID-19 deaths among Nebraska long-term care residents as of April 5 this year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), just 39 more than Feb. 7, less than one death per day.
Prior to Feb. 7, Nebraska averaged more than three COVID-19 deaths each day among long-term care residents since the state’s earliest COVID-19 deaths.
The 3 News Now Investigators dug through inspections from last summer involving long-term care facilities and discovered some locally that were found to be out of compliance with state standards for allowing employees to work when reporting symptoms.
“The fact that state inspectors were coming in and finding these sort of issues all the way into June was sort of shocking to me,” said Todd Stubbendieck, state director of the Nebraska AARP, who also is a former COO of the Douglas County Health Center long-term care facility.
At Hillcrest Health and Rehab in Bellevue five employees reported COVID-19 symptoms before working in mid-June.
Jim Janicki, a Hillcrest spokesperson and vice president, said it’s a misunderstanding from a highly regulated industry.
He said it was understood that the symptoms they were reporting were not due to the coronavirus, but allergies or something else. He said the facility learned how to properly follow up on that after the DHHS inspection.
“It’s a learning process,” he said.
He said he’s confident the facility didn’t have cases at the time and no positive tests were reported until the fall.
With the availability of rapid testing, Janicki said it became easier to determine if a symptom was due to COVID-19 or something else. Unlike earlier, staff can have a test result in 10 minutes, he said.
“When we had that infection control survey, if you wanted to have somebody tested, you had to do the deep nose swab, the brain ticklers, we like to call it, and it was four days for results,” he said.
He said the facility has passed two infection control surveys since then.
Falls City Care Center allowed four employees to work in mid-June despite reporting a symptom or an at least mild fever, according to DHHS records.
"We were screening our employees," a representative said. "We improved our screening process based on the survey, and despite the high county positivity rate, we were able to mitigate any outbreak in our facility."
On June 29, during a visit at Prestige Care Center in Plattsmouth, an inspector saw an employee coughing heavily while working, but that wasn’t on the check-in sheet, the inspector noted.
The same facility was found out of compliance for using a thermometer that wasn’t working properly for four days in late June.
During that time, nearly 60 employees reported their temperature at less than 96, and as low as 92.2 degrees, indicating the use of a malfunctioning thermometer.
Records show other facilities had lapses in documenting conditions at the start of shifts and the conditions of visiting guests.
At Belle Terrace in Tecumseh, screening was inconsistent before inspectors visited back on June 23.
In July, they were placed into temporary receivership, in other words forcibly turned over to new management to protect the safety of residents, according to DHHS.
In January, after inspections continued to find the facility out of compliance throughout the second half of the year, the facility’s Medicare agreement was terminated.
At the Ambassador of Omaha, the inspector noted they were never screened by staff when entering.
“Unfortunately COVID didn’t create these problems in our nursing homes but it highlighted them,” Stubbendieck said.