In Cook County, Nursing Homes Account For A Quarter Of COVID-19 Deaths

Lakeview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lincoln Park
Lakeview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lincoln Park has had 31 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nine deaths, according to recent state data. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Lakeview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lincoln Park
Lakeview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lincoln Park has had 31 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nine deaths, according to recent state data. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

In Cook County, Nursing Homes Account For A Quarter Of COVID-19 Deaths

Updated Saturday, April 18, at 9:50 a.m.

Nursing home residents account for one in every four Cook County deaths resulting from the novel coronavirus, a WBEZ analysis of medical examiner’s data has found.

Those deaths as of Friday morning totaled 200 of the county’s confirmed 776 COVID-19 deaths, the analysis found.

The vast majority of the 316 state-licensed nursing homes in the county, which includes Chicago, have managed to avoid any reported COVID-19 deaths so far.

But at least 76, or 24%, of those nursing homes have had at least one death due to the virus. Of those, 31 facilities have had at least three deaths.

The findings come after Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration has declined requests for the number of nursing-home residents who have died because of COVID-19 and for the names of the facilities associated with the deaths.

In a cable-news interview that aired Friday night, Pritzker vowed that his administration would begin posting that information online “this weekend.”

The nursing home with the highest COVID-19 death count, according to the Cook County data analyzed by WBEZ, is Glenview Terrace Rehabilitation Center, 1511 Greenwood Road, in north suburban Glenview. The data show 11 deaths associated with that 314-bed facility.

Those include Dale Rosenfield, 81, and Hagard Johnson, 90, who both died Thursday morning, according to the data.

Allen Hollander, the nursing home’s administrator, emailed a statement Friday afternoon that said six residents of the facility and no staff members had died due to COVID-19 “upon information available to us.”

Hollander said 20 residents and approximately 30 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19.

“Our nurses, nursing assistants, dietary staff and frontline facility personnel continue to arrive at work each day ready to battle this invisible enemy for which there is no known cure,” Hollander said in the statement, adding that the center follows guidance from state and federal public health authorities.

“Medical literature and governmental guidance indicate that the elderly and long-term care population is at heightened risk for injury as a result of COVID-19,” Hollander said. “We continue to work with IDPH and regulatory bodies to ascertain to what extent, if any, our experience differs from other similarly situated facilities.”

Separating COVID-19 patients

The second-highest COVID-19 death tally for a nursing home in Cook County is Bridgeview Health Care Center, 8100 S. Harlem Ave., just southwest of Chicago. The medical examiner data show eight deaths associated with that 142-bed facility.

But a spokeswoman of the nursing home on Friday emailed a statement that said the facility’s tally of resident deaths due to the virus was nine.

The Bridgeview center is one of at least three northern Illinois nursing homes led by Maurice Aaron and Marshall Mauer, both of Skokie. State filings list Aaron as president and Maurer as secretary of the Bridgeview center, Waterfront Terrace in Chicago and Willow Crest Nursing Pavilion in Sandwich.

The most recent COVID-19 fatality among the Bridgeview center’s residents was Frank Tate, 67, according to the medical examiner’s data. He died April 10.

Five staff members of the Bridgeview facility have also tested positive for the virus, according to the spokeswoman’s statement.

“We have developed a recovery unit for residents with confirmed cases,” the spokeswoman, Brittany Avery, said. “This is a separate unit within the facility. This separates COVID positive residents from the rest of the residents.”

Avery said the Bridgeview center has a “dedicated staff” to work in that COVID unit and limits entry into the unit by other staff members. The statement did not answer how many patients had tested positive for the virus.

“We have increased the monitoring of all residents,” Avery said. “Vital signs, including temperature and blood oxygenation level (pulse ox), are checked every four hours along with an assessment by a nurse for potential COVID symptoms. If a resident is suspected of having COVID they are placed in precautionary isolation for monitoring and receive any diagnostic tests or procedures ordered by their physicians.”

“We are proud of our staff who have continued to provide the excellent care we have learned to expect and appreciate from them,” Avery said.

Illinois secrecy

The Pritzker administration has provided little information about the number of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents statewide. His administration has also declined to identify the nursing homes where those deaths have taken place.

The Illinois Department of Public Health, which regulates the facilities, emailed a statement Wednesday that said the state had 296 deaths due to COVID-19 “associated with” nursing homes. That tally, according to the statement, includes both residents and staff members.

The deaths had taken place in 125 nursing homes, according to the IDPH statement, which said withholding the names of the facilities was a matter of privacy.

An IDPH statement Friday said the department’s “focus right now is providing guidance and support for long-term care facilities on infection control practices, proper use of [personal protective equipment] and extensive cleaning, especially those facilities experiencing multiple cases.”

As IDPH has withheld information about those facilities, a few have come to light.

Symphony of Joliet, about 40 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, on Wednesday announced that its COVID-19 death count was 23, including one staff member. That facility, located in Will County, is down to 16 residents, all of whom have tested positive for the virus, according to Mysuburbanlife.com, which reported that residents without the virus had been moved out.

In an MSNBC interview broadcast Friday night, Pritzker said the state would start releasing more information about COVID-19 deaths tied to nursing homes.

“Over the weekend we’re going to put every single nursing home and every single case, whether it’s staff or nursing-home resident, online,” Pritzker said. “Everybody will be able to take a look at it.”

“I’m a big believer in transparency,” Pritzker said.

National picture

Some other states, most recently Connecticut, have already named nursing homes where the virus has been found.

The Associated Press this week reported that at least 3,621 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19. The AP has kept a running count based on reports from news outlets and state health departments because the federal government has not been releasing a nationwide tally.

The true total, the AP reported, could be much higher because most state counts exclude deaths of victims who were never tested for the coronavirus.

An anonymous tip this week led to the discovery of 17 dead people at a large nursing home in New Jersey. Families who lost loved ones say they received form letters telling them their relatives were sick. In at least one case, the letter arrived after the patient died.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which regulates nursing homes, says the facilities have “become an accelerator” for COVID-19 because they are enclosed and because residents tend to be vulnerable to complications from the virus.

CMS this month urged nursing homes to use separate staffing teams for residents and set up separate units within nursing homes to keep residents with COVID-19 away from those who have tested negative.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about criminal justice. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Alden Loury is editor of that desk. Follow them at @ChipMitchell1, @estheryjkang and @AldenLoury.

Elliott Ramos contributed data analysis. Follow him at @ChicagoEl.