As deaths mount, officials test all veterans at nursing home

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RESERVE, La. (AP) — A nursing home for veterans in Louisiana has one of the state’s deadliest coronavirus clusters, data shows.

In the last month alone, there have been 43 deaths at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home in Reserve, though just over half were attributed to the virus, said Brandee Patrick, a spokeswoman for the facility’s operator, the state Department of Veterans Affair.

The home, which held around 150 veterans when the outbreak began, now has just 96 residents left, The New Orleans Advocate reported. Five of them are hospitalized. Of the rest, 47 have tested negative for the coronavirus, 34 have tested positive and six had inconclusive results, Patrick said.

Those numbers come as the state reported Saturday more than 26,500 cases throughout Louisiana and nearly 1,650 deaths.

St. John the Baptist Parish Coroner Christy Montegut has said it’s possible that some of those nursing home residents who died early in the outbreak could have in fact had the virus. That comes after new evidence shows the virus was infecting Americans earlier than previously thought.

The virus’s spread throughout the veterans’ facility has been agonizing for relatives of those inside, the newspaper said.

“All I can tell you is my dad was negative; hopefully he stays that way,” said Connie Bourgeois, whose father, Sidney Haydel, 95, served as a medic in World War II and lives at the facility. “I have been really worried, and I thought about taking him out. But it would be hard for me to take care of him. And I know if he did get sick they could treat him there.”

The facility has been on lockdown for more than a month. Contact has been limited to phone calls and videoconferencing.

“We just miss him,” Bourgeois said, who talks to her dad on the phone almost every day. He is lucid but legally blind, and has trouble walking, she said.

Haydel was shot in the head while treating a wounded soldier in France. When he recovered, he returned to St. Charles Parish and worked at the Shell refinery in Norco, Bourgeois said.

Department officials announced last week that they would test all residents, regardless of their symptoms, as the death toll at the facility rose. The facility is not requiring all employees to be tested, a decision Patrick said is in line with state and federal guidelines.

“If employees are symptomatic, they are stopped at the point of entry of the facility through our regular screening process and directed to see their personal physician and/or get tested at a public site,” she said.

Since the pandemic began, a total of 18 staffers have tested positive, Patrick said. Eleven have returned to work, the others are still at home, she said.

Bourgeois said the staff has been very good with patients and their relatives.

“I think they’re doing the best they can,” she said. “It’s really hard for them. They’ve been really great about calling and giving us updates.”

The Louisiana Department of Health reports about a third of the 1,540 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the state so far have occurred in nursing homes and senior facilities. The outbreak at the veterans home leads those numbers, followed by the Lambeth House retirement complex in New Orleans, where at least 18 have died.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

By: Associated Press

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