Nebraskans are known for being big-hearted, sensible and hardworking. We step up when neighbors need us. We make decisions and act based on facts. We work until a project is finished.
Nebraska is now also becoming known for our actions related to the pandemic but, unfortunately, the notoriety isn't the kind we want. Several national media outlets and the White House Coronavirus Task Force have specifically called out Nebraska for new COVID-19 case and test positivity rates.
We can do better. A Nebraska long-term care provider told a story that illustrates why we must do better. She shared how she recently gathered with the family of one of her nursing home residents as the resident was dying of COVID-19. Each family member in the room, including children, donned personal protective equipment from head-to-toe and loved on their mother and grandmother in the last hours of her life. The long-term care provider shared how crying while wearing an N-95 mask is difficult — and wrong. While the resident's death was peaceful, it was also one that no resident or family should have to experience.
Sadly, this scenario is happening more than any of us thought imaginable. A recent University of Chicago study of 20 "surge states" — Nebraska is included in this group — found that weekly U.S. nursing home resident deaths increased from 318 at the end of May to 699 at the end of October.
Nebraska's 206 nursing homes and 286 assisted living facilities are filled with caring, creative, witty and wise souls who deserve our greatest respect. These residents are our parents and grandparents, as well as former teachers, neighbors and colleagues. These care settings are also workplaces for 30,000 Nebraskans, some of the most caring and dedicated people in our midst who go to work each day to serve the needs of our state's elders. They are doing everything they can to prevent the coronavirus from spreading but, as long as transmission rates in Nebraska's cities and towns remain high, they are fighting a losing battle. Studies by Harvard Medical School, Brown Public Health and the University of Chicago all found that the number of COVID-19 cases in a community directly correlate with the nursing home outbreaks in that community.
The stress of maintaining daily operations while battling to keep infections out of buildings is daunting. Frankly, it is taking a toll on the emotional well-being of both facility staff and residents. Staff are working tirelessly to create a safe environment where families can visit their loved ones in a nursing home or assisted living community. The impact of isolation among residents is heartbreaking for care providers and families. We are asking you to do your part so that Nebraska's long-term care facility residents can have real connections with their families sooner than later. These residents and families are depending on you.
During this holiday season, please think twice about attending large gatherings or going without a mask. According to findings of a study published in an October issue of the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, more than half of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms. That means the people you encounter in public (and possibly expose to COVID-19) may work in a nursing home or assisted living community and will unknowingly take it to work with them, as well as to their own families.
Help in the form of a vaccine is on the way and, fortunately, longterm care facility residents and workers may be among the prioritized groups. However, distribution will take time. As gritty Nebraskans, we must do everything in our power to protect each other: wear a mask (properly) and avoid crowded places, close contact and confined spaces. These actions demonstrate your respect for others, including health-care workers and the elders who helped build our great state.
No matter how COVID-fatigued we all are, let's make it our goal to be known for how we buckled down and did everything we could to protect one another.
Heath Boddy is president and CEO of Nebraska Health Care Association. Jenifer Acierno is president and CEO of Leading Age Nebraska.