NewsContinuing Coverage


'They need more help there,' woman grieving the death of her husband after he contracted COVID-19 at Willoughby nursing home

Posted at 5:47 PM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-15 19:17:00-04

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — News 5 has been fielding calls, emails and texts from people concerned and outraged about the care their loved ones are receiving at a Willoughby nursing home.

That call volume increased after our reporting Monday, in which a current employee at Heartland of Willoughby outlined serious concerns about the way management at the facility has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wendy Lewis said her husband Mike Lewis took a turn for the worst in a matter of five days.

Lewis said she received a call on Thursday, September 3 from a staff member at Heartland of Willoughby stating her husband had tested positive for COVID-19.

“She said, ‘He has COVID.’ And I hung that phone up so fast and I called the director there and nobody answered,” Lewis said.

Shortly after, Lewis said she received a call back from management and was told due to visitation restrictions she could not see her husband because he was not actively dying.

“It was a long weekend,” Lewis said. “Or every weekend is long there. And you can't get ahold of anybody during the week, let alone on the weekend.”

The dreaded call came the afternoon of Labor Day, according to Lewis.

She said she was told she could now come to visit her husband in what would be his final days.

“He tried to talk to me but he couldn't talk,” Lewis said. “He hadn't eaten in four days.”

Mike Lewis died at Heartland of Willoughby Tuesday, September 8.

His death came less than a week after his wife said she was informed he had contracted COVID-19 at the nursing home facility.

Wendy Lewis said the nursing home facility is overwhelmed.

“They need more help there," Lewis said. "They can't do it all.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, management for the facility issued a written statement in which they stated they are taking the appropriate steps to maintain staffing levels and ensure patient safety.

You can read the full statement below:

“We appreciate family members’ frustration with not being able to visit their loved ones especially those who are involved daily and must rely on virtual conversation which are difficult to clearly communicate. We appreciate the overwhelming sadness of the loss of a loved one and our employees feel the same and sincerely send their condolences.

We know that the frail and elderly are especially susceptible to this virus and when it is prevalent in our community, it will also be in health care settings such as ours. We are doing everything possible to keep our patients and employees safe. We realize this a worrisome time, but with our precautions in place we feel we are taking the necessary steps to ensure patient safety.

At Heartland of Willoughby we have been able to maintain appropriate staffing levels and infection control measures and our most recent surveys by the department of health over the last four months were positive. According to the Ohio Department of Health on August 28th, “it was determined that the facility was in compliance with federal requirements related to implementing proper infection prevention and control practices to prevent the development and transmission of COVID-19. The survey revealed that the facility was in substantial compliance with participation requirements (the survey process also includes staffing levels) and no deficiencies were cited.” We believe the facility has the right protocols in place to care for our patients.

We recognize the importance of reuniting patients with their loved ones and the impact that has on their quality of life and realize that this has been an extremely challenging time for everyone. We continue to stay in contact with our family members on a regular basis and work diligently to meet our patients’ health and emotional needs. We will continue to stay in touch and ensure our manager on duty is available during weekends and holidays.

It is an honor and privilege for our employees to care for our patients and work alongside health care heroes. Unfortunately, they do not get enough recognition for that in long term care. We will also reiterate our protocols with staff and ensure that they understand CMS’ requirements for testing for staff as well as essential and end of life visitation requirements for family members.

And as a reminder, the center does follow our isolation precautions when we have COVID-19 positive cases in the center which helps minimize the spread of the virus. Our precaution measures include creating an Airborne Isolation Unit or area (CAIU) as part of our infection control and treatment plan. This means:

  • We will designate an isolation unit for patients who meet our isolation criteria (higher risk patients).
  • The unit will have barriers installed to protect other residents and employees and keep higher risk patients in a focused treatment area.
  • We will have personal protective equipment dedicated to this unit.
  • As much as possible, we will have dedicated staff on the unit in CDC-approved Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This means respiratory masks, gowns, face shields or goggles and gloves.
  • Special cleaning, disposal, laundry and sanitizing measures will be enforced.

We are proud of our employees who have been working extremely hard for nearly six months in the most challenging environment. They have had to think outside the box to keep families and patients informed and connected, change how we serve meals, deliver therapy and present activities while maintaining social distancing, hygiene practices and wearing PPE throughout their shift. They are true health care heroes to us and to the patients they serve.”

The Ohio Department of Health provided the following statement when questioned about a possible investigation into the facility’s practices:

“ODH went in and investigated a complaint on September 10. The survey is not completed yet and therefore it is not a public record. The surveyor has 30 days after we leave the facility to write the report and send it back to the facility. Then it becomes a public record.”