Officials at Bedford Care Center of Hattiesburg, which as of Tuesday has experienced 25 resident deaths from COVID-19, have ignored multiple attempts by The PineBelt NEWS to garner more information on past outbreaks at the facility and the active outbreak reported this week by the Mississippi State Department of Health.
The nursing home, which has 152 beds, has the highest virus-related numbers of any such facility in the state as reported by the Health Department, including the deaths and, cumulatively, 55 employee cases and 92 resident cases.
The PineBelt NEWS has been attempting to contact nursing home officials since May 12, when a reader reported that her grandfather had COVID-19 and was a resident at the facility.
Those calls were never returned, and, after the Health Department released the additional information this week, newspaper staff members attempted to reach the facility administrator, Shawn Carpenter, or owners of the facility through the Hattiesburg Medical Park Management Corporation, which manages the facility.
Carpenter did return a phone call Thursday but asked that any questions be sent to him in an email. Newspaper staff members did so that same day, and Carpenter responded that he had received the email.
However, no response to the newspaper’s questions has been forthcoming, and facility officials instead released a statement Friday to The Clarion Ledger, a Jackson newspaper.
“The hotspot in Hattiesburg can be wholly attributed to the nature of this silent virus … and not the care rendered at the facility,” said officials in the statement.
According to The Clarion Ledger, the nursing home was cited in 2018 and 2019 for infection control deficiencies by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency. Facility officials said those deficiencies were “procedural and minor” and were corrected before the pandemic.
The statement goes on to say that the nursing home experienced its first case “about a month” after the first case in Mississippi was found in Forrest County on March 11. The statement said there are currently 22 cases among residents at the facility.
Facility officials said “it would be impossible to pinpoint the source” as many residents go for treatment at area hospitals or to clinics for dialysis care. Officials added that the facility struggled to initially get tests, and some tests took 7-10 days for results.
“Nursing homes need access to 2-hour test results,” officials said in the statement. “That would have made a huge difference in our ability to respond.”
Officials said they struggled to get residents with dementia to wear masks, wash their hands and socially distance. The facility also struggled with staffing problems, but that problem is now contained, according to the report from The Clarion Ledger.
Carpenter made a public post on Facebook on May 1 that said the facility needed nurses and that incentives were available.
Shaun McAlpin of Dixie said, during an interview with The PineBelt NEWS, his 90-year-old grandmother lives at the facility and has suffered from the highly contagious 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.”
McAlpin said he understands officials at the nursing home are “under a lot of pressure.”
“However, even before the COVID virus started, we all knew Bedford Care was a horrible place,” he said. “On a scale of 1-10, I’d honestly give it a two, and that’s before COVID. Now, I’d give it a one. They don’t really keep a good eye on patients.”
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 Health Department started releasing the names of affected long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, after numerous requests from media outlets and a public records lawsuit filed by The PineBelt NEWS.