By Mary Clarkin
Lisa Bramblett had underlying health issues and realized she could die if she caught the novel coronavirus.
The licensed practical nurse, who was the charge nurse overnight at Pittsburg (Kan.) Care and Rehabilitation Center, continued to work as the pandemic rolled through 2020.
“The nursing home was testing everybody twice a week, and she tested positive on the 7th (of December),” her husband, Ron Bramblett, said.
By Dec. 11, she was in the emergency room. The following day, she was put on a ventilator at a Pittsburg hospital, Ron Bramblett said. Three days after Christmas, she died.
Bramblett is one of at least three long-term caregivers in Kansas whose deaths are blamed on COVID-19.
The Catholic Care Center in Bel Aire reported a staff death from COVID-19 in data for the week ending Jan. 10, 2021.
“It was tragic for our community. It was a great tragedy for us to lose a staff member to COVID,” said Brenda Davis, senior director of nursing at the Catholic Care Center.
Davis did not identify the Catholic Care Center staff member who died.
Another staff death was reported in western Kansas, where Ness County Hospital has a connected long-term care unit doing business as Cedar Village.
“We had a person who worked here who passed from COVID,” said Chief Executive Officer Aaron Kuehn, overseeing the hospital and long-term care unit in Ness City.
Data called wrong
Accurate counts of resident and staff COVID-19 deaths at Kansas long-term care facilities are elusive.
As of mid-March 2021, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 1,850 such deaths at long-term care facility clusters across the state, or 38 percent of the state’s total death count from the virus. KDHE doesn’t have data available showing how many of the deaths at those clusters were staff members.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tracks COVID-19 statistics at Medicare/Medicaid facilities. The staff deaths at Pittsburg Care and Rehabilitation Center, the Catholic Care Center, and the Ness County Long Term Care Unit appeared on the CMS website.
Staff deaths at three additional Kansas nursing homes — in Liberal, Winfield, and Columbus — also appeared on the CMS website. Spokesmen for those facilities said they had not experienced staff deaths.
“I think it was a documentation error that we showed up on that list,” said Amy Higgins, administrator of Medicalodges Columbus.
Margaret Farley, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said there are still open questions about the number of residents and staff who contracted COVID-19 in nursing facilities and other adult care homes in Kansas.
This is in part because residents who may have contracted COVID-19 in the adult care home but were transferred to and died in a hospital may not have been accurately and fully counted among the dead due to COVID in the nursing facility, according to Farley.
Also unknown is the impact on staff at those facilities.
“We are finding it difficult to learn how many and what level of staff contracted COVID, how many died, how many have long-term effects, or suffer from trauma. We don’t know the extent to which individual residents who have suffered isolation, depression and abandonment are being treated for their trauma today,” Farley wrote.
Lisa Bramblett, 52, frequently battled pneumonia and had weak lungs, her husband said. She also was overweight.
Bramblett thinks Lisa became infected at her workplace. December was the deadliest month of the pandemic at Pittsburg Care and Rehabilitation Center, where a total of 12 residents have died.
A graveside service in Fort Scott is planned for March 27. Bramblett learned about The Nightingale Tribute designed by the Kansas State Nurses Association that involves a candle, white rose, a reading and a poem. It will be part of the service.
Contact Mary Clarkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.