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'She deserves better': Willoughby man says COVID-19 cases at his mother's nursing home are out of control

Posted at 8:42 PM, Sep 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-12 23:22:26-04

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — Jeff DeCapite saw his mother outside of a window at Heartland of Willoughby on Aug. 26.

“I didn’t recognize her. It was almost like she wasn’t even there,” he said.

DeCapite said something was wrong. His mother is disabled, epileptic and has Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

But that day, he said, she was having difficulty breathing and showing signs of coronavirus symptoms.

“I had to fight that following Thursday for the facility to even agree to test her because they weren’t willing to test her.”

DeCapite said the next day the nursing home tested his mother for coronavirus. Her results came back positive about four days later.

“The last two weeks have just absolutely been a nightmare,” he said. “It’s wreaking havoc on her but every day it sounds like she’s just getting weaker and weaker and further away and they’re saying, 'welp she’s fine.'”

According to the Ohio Department of Health, 32 patients at Heartland of Willoughby have tested positive for the virus along with six staff members, the most of all long-term care facilities in Northeast Ohio this week.

News 5 reached out to the nursing home’s cooperate office for comment. A spokesperson returned our calls, but said they cannot comment on specific patients. The following statement was sent:

Heartland of Willoughby remains committed to the safety and well-being of our residents. With more availability of testing and support for long term care, we have been able to do whole house testing. As we learn more about the COVID-19 virus, we have been able to manage, contain and treat the virus faster and reduce the spread especially since many individuals are asymptomatic.

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.

We recognize the importance of reuniting our patients and residents 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 families and residents. We are following state mandates and putting our policies in place to implement the reopening requirements to ensure that visitation is done in a way that protects them from the virus while also bringing them the benefits of in-person contact with loved ones. In addition, our organization is participating in Eli Lilly’s antibody infusion trials and are looking forward to being part of a solution for this horrible virus.

As far as Heartland of Willoughby, here is their data:


  • 67 total patients tested positive
  • 16 patients recovered
  • 12 passed away from COVID-19 related issues
  • 50 positive cases currently in house (employees or patients)
  • 1 outstanding test

Below is what we have in place to isolate, manage and contain the virus.

When we first realized that the novel Coronavirus reached the United States earlier this year, we began putting precautions in place such as checking and monitor for symptoms of the novel Coronavirus for all visitors, patients and employees. Then on March 14, we added more precautions such as eliminating group activities and most visitors except for end of life reasons. We also implemented universal masking of our employees.

Heartland of Willoughby is a not-for-profit, mission-focused skilled nursing and rehabilitation center. We know that the frail and elderly are especially susceptible to this virus. That’s why we are in close communication with our local health department, CDC and CMS to ensure we have the latest information and resources available. The health and well-being of our patients and employees remains our top priority.

We have taken significant additional precautions to minimize risk to patients and employees and have had systems and processes in place to help reduce the risks associated with the novel Coronavirus. We have precautionary measures designed to protect the safety and health of patients, employees and authorized visitors. We are:

  • Restricting new admissions.
  • Taking regular symptom and temperature checks of all residents. We have reduced our temperature threshold to 99 degrees so we can address any change in condition rapidly.
  • Increased our sanitizing and cleaning processes.
  • Reviewing all inventory for personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns, and educating staff on proper use and disposal.
  • Working with the Department of Health, CDC and the community to minimize any additional risk.
  • Staying connected with families.
  • Regular updates and in-servicing of our care team.
  • Working with supply chain to ensure we have the appropriate PPE supplies.

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.
Whether we have a novel Coronavirus positive case, can get tests, are waiting for test results or have patients who may need additional monitoring, we manage the risk at the same level of intensity and commitment by adding enhanced monitoring and screening as well as putting into place isolation practices for patients or quarantine for employees.

We communicate directly with employees, patients and their families if they are affected or if there is a risk of exposure in our facility. This information is constantly changing and for us to report that information publicly may just add concern and fear rather than allay it. We are happy to address any concerns or questions employees, patients and families have directly with them.

We are doing everything we can to minimize risks associated with the novel Coronavirus in our facility. We are in very close communication with our medical director, clinical support team, and local and state health officials about the appropriate steps to serve the best interests of our patients, employees and visitors. We are instructing our staff and patients to follow the recommended preventative actions. We appreciate the Department of Health’s support in identifying and addressing this issue as well. We continue to take every precaution to prevent the spread of the infection and keep families informed.

11,783 long-term care facility patients in Ohio have tested positive since April and 2,428 of them have died. DeCapite said he’s fighting, calling on Gov. Mike DeWine to help make sure his mother isn’t next.

“At least send in the National Guard and get some kind of containment on the spread,” he said. "My primary focus is getting somebody in there to get this infection under control."

News 5 did reach out to the Ohio Department of Health and was told their team is looking into things at Heartland of Willoughby, but won’t have an update until Monday.