COVID-19 outbreaks at Louisiana nursing homes infect nearly 1,200 staff members

Facilities report low vaccine booster rates among residents, employees

By: - January 10, 2022 3:59 pm
COVID-19 outbreaks at Louisiana nursing homes infect nearly 1,200 staff members

Coronavirus COVID-19 computer generated image. (Getty Images)

Coronavirus outbreaks at nursing homes last week have infected more than a thousand nursing home staff members across Louisiana and 44% of the residents at one facility, state health statistics show. Adding to those concerns is the low rate of vaccine boosters administered to nursing home residents and staff at some sites.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health’s weekly nursing home monitoring report for Jan. 4, there were 1,182 new COVID-19 cases among staff members and at least 305 new cases among residents. Those numbers were self-reported by 248 facilities. Twenty nursing homes did not provide case numbers to the state last week, meaning case numbers among Louisiana nursing home residents and staff could likely be higher.  

Several dozen Louisiana nursing homes are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks or are on the verge of them. The climbing case counts involve staff, residents or both. 

One of the more serious outbreaks is at Bernice Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Union Parish, which reported 38 of its 86 residents were infected — a 44% positivity rate. The health department would not say if any residents or staff there died.

Additionally, the Bernice center reported 17 coronavirus cases among its staff members. The facility’s managers did not respond to the Illuminator’s request for comment.

The next highest positivity rates last week were at Southern Oaks Nursing & Rehab Center in Caddo Parish with 20% of its 53 residents infected, Sage Rehabilitation Hospital in Baton Rouge with 35% of its 17 residents, and Jefferson Healthcare Center in Jefferson with 13% of its 187 residents testing positive.

Infections among nursing home workers are a bigger problem. A total of 39 facilities have reported 10 or more new cases among staff. Roseview Nursing & Rehab Center in Caddo Parish, which houses 105 residents, reported 27 staff-member infections and 14 resident infections. Evangeline Oaks Guest House in Lafayette, which houses 91 residents, reported 18 staff-member infections and three resident infections.

“The omicron variant is resulting in increased cases within nursing homes,” the health department said on its website. 

State health data show the sharp increase in cases at nursing homes mirrors the COVID-19 omicron surge that has gripped the state since the start of the new year.

For the weekly period ending Dec. 29, Natchitoches Community Care Center, a facility with 90 residents, reported the highest number of staff COVID-19 cases in the state with 15 cases and another seven among its residents. By Jan. 4, those numbers increased by nine and two, respectively. 

The final reporting period of 2021 saw no more than seven cases among residents at any single facility and 20 cases total across the state. With few exceptions, the same held true for nursing home staff cases.

Although many nursing homes across Louisiana boast higher than average vaccination rates compared with the public, few residents and staff have gotten the vaccination booster. 

At Bernice Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, 79% of its residents and 73% of its staff have received two vaccine doses. None of the residents and only 2% of the staff have received the booster, according to health department records.

“By now, most licensed nursing homes have already coordinated and completed at least one booster vaccination opportunity for their residents and staff, but a considerable number are reporting to LDH that fewer than 20% of their residents have received a COVID booster dose,” the Louisiana Department of Health said on its website.

Denise Bottcher with AARP’s Louisiana branch said the numbers are “concerning for nursing home residents who are the most vulnerable to serious disease and death.” Her organization’s data show about 64% of staff members have received a full vaccine dose but only about 7% have received a booster.

“Vaccines along with boosters have been the best defense,” Bottcher said. “It remains to be seen what will happen to our nursing home communities. AARP will continue to track this data through its nursing home dashboard.”

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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