Parson orders outside review of COVID-19 outbreaks at Missouri veterans homes
After 51 deaths at Missouri Veterans Homes that had active COVID-19 cases, Gov. Mike Parson on Friday ordered an external review of operations at the seven homes serving the long-term care needs of elderly and disabled veterans.
A news release issued Friday by the Missouri Veterans Commission stated that it is unknown yet how many of the deaths will be attributed to COVID-19 but until last month, there had been only one death at a home while there was an active case.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of the deaths in four of our Missouri Veterans Homes,” Parson said in the release. “As a veteran myself, I care a great deal about the quality of care our veterans receive at the Veterans Homes in our state and have raised an alarm bell more than once when I felt we as a state weren’t meeting the standard of care I believe they are owed.”
In a news release issued by his office, Parson said he received a briefing about conditions in the homes that made him concerned about how well Missouri Veterans Homes are operating to prevent and, if necessary, contain COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and residents.
“The recent sudden positive case growth among staff and residents in our Veterans Homes, and most importantly, the tragic loss of lives of veterans in our care are, in my opinion, unacceptable,” Parson said in the release.
The commission operates veterans homes in Cameron, Cape Girardeau, Mexico, Mt. Vernon, St. James, St. Louis and Warrensburg. As of Friday, the homes had a total of 132 active COVID-19 cases among veterans and 33 staff members.
The seven homes have a combined capacity for about 1,350 veteran residents.
The largest outbreaks are at the Cape Girardeau home, with 57 veterans and 12 staff members with active cases, St. James, with 24 veterans and nine staff members, and Mt. Vernon, with 27 veterans and four staff.
There were no active cases on Friday at the Mexico home and two staff and no veterans with active cases at the St. Louis home.
In September, there were 21 deaths at the Cape Girardeau home, 10 at the St. James home, seven at Mt. Vernon and three at Warrensburg.
As part of the external review, Parson directed Missouri Veterans Commission Chairman Timothy Noonan to conduct a rapid, independent, external review the to assess their performance and identify what steps, if any, should be taken to improve their management of COVID-19.
Parson also directed that the homes use the new Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests for immediate, comprehensive testing of all staff and residents under state care. An initial shipment of 2,400 tests was delivered Friday for distributed to priority homes, the release stated. The homes will receive antigen and PCR tests for ongoing testing.
Parson said the commission should fully implement the policies, protocols, and guidance that other long-term care facilities in Missouri must comply with in the fight against COVID-19, including the state’s box-in testing strategy.
Veterans homes restricted access to visitors, vendors, and volunteers at veterans homes after the first COVID-19 case was identified in early March. In August, the commission began allowing outdoor visits with family members and loved ones as conditions permitted. All outdoor visits included a screening process and wearing masks.
The homes have worked to protect veterans, Executive Director Paul Kirchhoff said in the commission release.
“We are concerned to see the heroes we care for dealing with this disease that is so virulent among the elderly and vulnerable populations,” he said.
The positive rate on COVID-19 tests reached its highest point of the pandemic on Monday and continued to climb, reaching 14.4 percent on Wednesday, the most recent date reported by the Department of Health and Senior Services.
The previous peak, 13.6 percent, was set on April 2, during a week when the state performed a total of 13,305 tests. The state is conducting five to 10 times that the number of tests each week now.
The reported 1,708 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and 9,091 for the week. There was an average of 1,298 cases per day, including a downward adjustment of 130 made on Monday with the launch of a new dashboard.
The downward adjustment interrupted a string of 19 consecutive days with 1,000 or more.
The state has reported 131,105 total cases.
That is down from the peak of 1,499 cases per day reported the previous week and the fourth-highest week of the pandemic.
There was at least one new infection reported in 109 of 117 local health jurisdictions on Saturday and only one local health jurisdiction, Montgomery County, had no new cases in the first three days of the month.
The state also reported 25 additional deaths on Saturday, bringing the total to 2,169.