Bedford Care Center of Hattiesburg, which has experienced 25 resident deaths from COVID-19, currently has 77 residents living at the facility, and 22 of those residents – along with five staff members – have the virus.
Administrator Shawn Carpenter provided the numbers to The PineBelt NEWS on Monday morning. The newspaper requested information from Carpenter on June 4 after the Mississippi State Department of Health announced that the 152-bed nursing home had the highest virus-related numbers of any such facility in the state.
As of June 2, there have been 55 employee cases and 92 resident cases at the nursing home. This information was only released after The PineBelt NEWS filed a public records lawsuit against the Health Department in Hinds County Chancery Court.
Chancellor Tiffany Grove subsequently ordered the department to respond, and department officials are now releasing the names of facilities with active COVID-19 cases on their website.
The PineBelt NEWS has been attempting to gather more information on the COVID-19 situation at Bedford Care Center of Hattiesburg since May 12, when Kristin James reported that her grandfather, 70-year-old Jimmy Lackey, was a resident there and was ill with the virus.
James said at the time that she was upset with a lack of communication from the nursing home about her grandfather’s condition.
Nursing home officials did not return those calls. When contacted again on June 4, Carpenter asked newspaper staff members to email him any questions. Staff members did so, but the facility instead released a statement that day to The Clarion Ledger, a Jackson newspaper.
On June 5, The PineBelt NEWS published a story about Bedford officials refusing to answer questions from the Hattiesburg newspaper, and, on Monday, Carpenter responded to those questions through an emailed statement.
The first positive case was found at the facility on April 6, he wrote.
“Over the last three months, we have cared for a total of 163 residents,” he wrote. “Currently, there are only 22 active cases on our COVID unit. There are 77 residents in the building.”
According to Carpenter, there are five employees who are currently sick with the virus. The facility has 183 total employees, and 104 of those employees are involved in direct patient care.
The administrator added that the facility has “taken extraordinary measures” to ensure the safety of residents. He wrote that those measures often “go above and beyond” the outlined recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Bedford Care Centers began implementing CDC and public health department guidance on screening visitors, vendors and staff on March 9, two days before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Mississippi,” he wrote.
The facility instituted a “no visitors” policy prior to the order from Gov. Tate Reeves that officially paused nursing home visitations in mid-March, according to Carpenter. He added that the facility “developed strategies, checklists and guidelines specific to controlling spread of COVID-19,” secured personal protective equipment for staff, increased availability of hand sanitizer and “required staff and health care providers to answer sign-in questionnaire and have vital signs taken prior to beginning work.”
The facility also created a “dedicated COVID-19 unit” and “identified staff willing to volunteer to work exclusively on (this) unit,” wrote Carpenter.
“There were staffing concerns early on but not currently,” he wrote. “We are extremely proud of our staff and the way they have come together to provide care for our residents and looked out for one another. We had a group of people step forward and volunteer to work on the COVID-19 unit, despite the risks.”
Carpenter wrote that, “to further protect and isolate,” the COVID-19 unit had separate entrances and exits.
“When a resident tests positive for COVID-19, they are immediately moved to the unit, where they remain until they have completed their recommended isolation,” he wrote. “Our staff is not only highly trained, but our medical director is an infectious disease expert. Our residents ... receive a vigilance of care and enhanced services.”
In his statement to The Clarion-Ledger, Carpenter wrote that nursing home staffers struggled to get residents with dementia to wear masks, wash their hands and socially distance. He added that the facility initially struggled to get tests, and some tests took 7-10 days for results.
“Nursing homes need access to 2-hour test results,” he wrote in the statement to The Clarion-Ledger. “That would have made a huge difference in our ability to respond.”
In his statement to The PineBelt NEWS, Carpenter wrote that he expects all active cases “to make a full recovery in the near future.”
“Thankfully, (we) feel like we are on the downhill stretch,” he wrote.
The administrator added that “alternative means of communication” have been provided for family members to visit with residents at the facility, including “phone and video calls.”
“We have been in constant communications with family members of residents about the current situation,” he wrote.
Several family members have expressed frustration with the lack of communication from Bedford officials.
However, Shaun McAlpin of Dixie said, in a June 5 interview with The PineBelt NEWS, that his family was not informed when his 90-year-old grandmother, who is a resident at the facility, tested positive for the virus.
“When the coronavirus hit, they locked residents in their rooms ... and they wouldn’t let them out,” he said. “When my grandmother got sick in mid-May, they didn’t tell us. We had no idea she had the coronavirus. We kept calling and calling, and her phone just went to voicemail.”
McAlpin said his brother happened to call his grandmother’s cellphone one day, and she answered. She had been admitted to Merit Health Wesley as a virus patient.
“I found out she was at Wesley, and the nurses there … they answered the phone, they took the phone down to her,” he said. “As soon as she got back to Bedford Care, we couldn’t talk to her. They don’t answer the phone. It’s a hard process.”
He said his grandmother’s condition has deteriorated rapidly, and being unable to speak to her or see her has added a great deal of stress to him and to his family.
“Every day, I’m surprised she makes it another day,” said McAlpin. “A few weeks ago, she was fine. I know coronavirus takes a toll on people, but it’s a mess.”
There are eight Bedford Care Centers in the state, and there are three other locations in Forrest County. The Alzheimer’s Care Center in Hattiesburg has 60 beds, and the Monroe Hall location, also in Hattiesburg, has 80 beds. Additionally, there is Bedford Care Center of Petal, which has 60 beds.
Information from the Health Department, sent to The PineBelt NEWS by email, shows that the Petal location previously had a COVID-19 outbreak with two affected employees, and the Alzheimer’s Care Center previously had an outbreak with one sick employee.
Other Bedford locations include the 120-bed Bedford Care Center of Marion, the 120-bed Bedford Care Center of Newton, the 60-bed Bedford Care Center of Picayune and the 60-bed Bedford Care Center of Mendenhall, which is currently closed for renovations.
Bedford Care Center of Hattiesburg is managed by a group called the Hattiesburg Medical Park Management Corporation. The owners of the facility are listed, in ownership information acquired by The PineBelt NEWS, as Sonya McElroy, Jack Bevon, Stephen Worrel, Nicole Bevon, Michael McElroy and Janet McElroy.
The ownership information also lists Bedford Health Properties, LLC as an owner with 5 percent or greater direct ownership interest. In information on file with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office, that company lists Michael E. McElroy Jr. of Hattiesburg as its registered agent and Michael Eugene McElroy of Hattiesburg as a member.
According to the Bedford website, Mike McElroy “began his career in long-term care with the purchase of one nursing home in Hattiesburg” in the 1970s.
The website adds that Bedford is “one of the largest locally-owned groups of skilled nursing facilities in the state.” In addition to the eight skilled nursing facilities, the website says related companies include an institutional pharmacy, staffing relief through HMP Nursing Services and private-duty care to seniors through Bedford Care at Home.
Forrest County ranks second in the state for deaths in long-term care facilities, a classification used by the Health Department that includes nursing homes. Only Lauderdale County ranks higher.