Windermere Health and Rehabilitation Center in Augusta, where 76 residents and 42 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and 11 infected residents have died, has drawn scrutiny from a U.S. congressional panel probing the coronavirus crisis in long-term care facilities. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta nursing home chain among those targeted in congressional probe

Atlanta-based SavaSeniorCare is one of five for-profit nursing homes chains targeted in a congressional investigation launched last week to explore the coronavirus crisis in the nation’s long-term care facilities.

Rep. James Clyburn, chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent Sava’s CEO Jerry Roles a 10-page letter asking detailed questions about the company’s operations and its handling of the pandemic.

“More than 300 Americans have died and many more have been infected at facilities owned by your company,” Clyburn, D-South Carolina, wrote in the letter.

Clyburn cited a large outbreak at Sava’s Windermere Health and Rehabilitation Center in Augusta as an example. As of Friday, 76 residents and 42 staff at the home have tested positive and 11 residents have died after being confirmed for COVID-19.

Sava has 13 nursing homes across Georgia, and nearly half have had major outbreaks, the AJC found. At Roselane Health and Rehabilitation Center in Marietta, 99 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 died. At Sandy Springs Health and Rehabilitation, 66 have tested positive and 13 have died, according to the Georgia Department of Community Health.

Some Sava nursing homes in other states have also had major outbreaks and large numbers of deaths, including almost all of its facilities in Maryland and Michigan, according to federal data. At one Pennsylvania facility, 173 residents were infected, and 48 died.

Across Georgia, 6,591 residents of long-term care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday. That includes nursing homes, assisted living facilities and large personal care homes. Of those who have tested positive, 1,182 died and 3,789 have recovered so far.

Nursing home operators worry that outbreaks and deaths will continue to increase as some states see a surge in coronavirus infections. Georgia just reported 1,800 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the highest number the state has reported in a single day since the pandemic started.

Sava told the AJC Saturday it was still considering how it would handle Clyburn’s request for information. It only received the letter today, said Annaliese Impink, spokesperson for SavaSeniorCare Consulting.

“While we will likely cooperate, we are weighing our options and will determine our next steps,” Impink said.

Sava said its nursing homes continue to work hard to prevent the spread of the virus to residents and staff. “The centers are following the infection control guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and state and local health departments,” Impink said. “We appreciate all of the efforts of our client center staff as they work day in and day out to care for those that we have the privilege to serve.”

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, is chairman of a House panel looking into impact of the coronavirus crisis on residents and workers at nursing homes.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Clyburn said he opened the investigation after hearing testimony about lax oversight by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the federal government’s failure to provide adequate testing supplies, masks, gowns and other protective equipment.

Experts briefing the subcommittee, Clyburn wrote, also described how under-staffing, low pay and a lack of paid leave for workers may have contributed to the crisis.

The four other nursing home chains targeted in the investigation are Genesis HealthCare, Life Care Centers of America, Ensign Group and Consulate Healthcare. Together with Sava, they are the five largest for-profit nursing home chains in the nation, according to the announcement. Clyburn wrote that Genesis HealthCare, the nation’s largest nursing home corporation, has had at least 1,500 deaths in 187 facilities.

The special subcommittee is also asking CMS to answer a series of questions about the Trump administration’s response.

“CMS has issued guidance for nursing homes, but this guidance has often been unclear, and CMS failed to take adequate steps to ensure that nursing homes comply with its recommendations,” Clyburn said when announcing the investigation. “Deregulation and lax enforcement of infection control violations by CMS—both before and during the pandemic—may have contributed to the spread of the virus.”

Nursing homes across the nation have complained that they weren’t made a priority by federal and state governments when the pandemic began sweeping the country, leaving them without the tests and PPE they needed to combat the virus.

“As long term care providers have gained access to testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), staffing support and other assistance, they have increasingly been better able to respond to this crisis and prevent outbreaks,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association said in response to the investigation by the subcommittee. “Meanwhile, the vast majority of residents diagnosed with the virus are recovering or are likely to recover.”

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