At least 20 deaths have been reported at Spring River Christian Village among residents who tested positive for COVID-19, and while a resident there believes officials are making the right calls, a woman who lost a loved one to the illness at the nursing home believes she was left in the dark.
Anne Foos, a 92-year-old resident at Spring River, 201 Northpark Lane, recently tested negative for the coronavirus. She currently lives on the second floor of the west side of the main building. Foos moved in nearly two years ago and said she is comfortable with the new safety precautions the owners are taking to combat the illness.
“I’ve had very good experiences over here, but I’m easy to get along with, and I’m in pretty good shape,” she said. “I can pretty much do what I want to. They bring food to me, and I stay on the second floor. I don’t go downstairs, and I do wear the mask every time I go out of the room.”
Even though she’s in isolation, Foos keeps herself occupied in her room with books, television programs and historical DVDs. She’s established a routine to avoid exposure and says she doesn’t have any fears regarding the virus because she’s lived a long, happy life.
“The mailbox is up here, so I can just pick up my mail in the evening and wash my clothes,” she said. “I usually just stay in the room, but I have a lot of things to entertain me. I read a lot, and I have the newspaper. But I don’t mind being alone. I don’t want to be sick. I’d rather just sit in my chair all day than to be sick. I’m pretty healthy, and I’m old enough that I’ve lived my life. Occasionally, I get upset, but as a whole, I can accept what comes.”
In a phone interview with the Globe on Thursday, Foos also said she’s optimistic the pandemic can be defeated with a vaccine. She sees similarities between what’s happening with the pandemic today and the polio scare in the United States decades ago.
“Before the vaccine, we had measles, chicken pox and mumps,” Foos said. “But the polio scare is very much like this. It was something that they had no idea of how we could handle it when we were children.”
Polio was once considered one of the most feared diseases in America before there was a vaccine. The first polio outbreak in the U.S. was recorded in 1894, with 132 cases in Vermont. Two major polio outbreaks erupted in the country in 1916 and 1952.
Poliomyelitis, also called polio or infantile paralysis, is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system. It can cause temporary or permanent paralysis in a matter of hours. It mainly affected children 5 and younger, but it also affected teens and adults.
The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the fecal-oral route or, less frequently, by contaminated food or water where it multiplies in the intestine, according to the World Health Organization. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd U.S. president, contracted the disease at age 39 in 1921.
“The fear of polio was a fear of something you had no defense against, something that hit without logic or reason. Yesterday, it was the man down the block. Today it could be you or your children,” said one prominent polio victim, Larry Alexander, in 1954. Alexander contracted polio in his 20s and spent the rest of his life using an iron lung, a tank respirator commonly associated with polio.
Individual rights often conflicted with the need for public safety during the polio epidemic. Local health officials imposed quarantines on homes if an individual was diagnosed with polio, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
“We stayed in the neighborhood, so we wouldn’t be as apt to pick it up,” Foos said. “You could catch it just by being around people, kind of like this. It’s a pretty good comparison.”
With vaccines, the number of polio cases dropped dramatically to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Loss of a loved one
Although there are similarities to polio, there also are distinct differences with today’s COVID-19 outbreak. A woman who lost her mother in the coronavirus outbreak at Spring River believes that things could have been handled differently by the nursing home.
Susan Helms of Joplin lost her mother to COVID-19 earlier this month. Elma Hammond, 94, had lived at Spring River for six years, her daughter said.
“She was just a sweet little lady, always had a smile on her face, great sense of humor,” she said. “They treated her very well. Up until all this came about, I went out there five days a week and spent time with her. They took very good care of her.”
Helms said Spring River called her family on July 2 to tell them that Hammond was not well. Helms and her sister debated whether to visit her, given the ongoing pandemic, and the sister eventually went to see her later that day.
The following morning, the family was informed in a telephone call that Hammond had died. Helms said COVID-19 wasn’t mentioned at that time. She would eventually suspect that her mother’s death was being classified as a COVID-19 case by watching a local television newscast that was reporting on new coronavirus deaths in the city of Joplin. It wasn’t until after that, she said, that she received confirmation that Hammond’s death was related to COVID-19.
A spokeswoman for the city of Joplin confirmed to the Globe that Hammond’s death is included in counts for the Joplin Health Department where COVID-19 was identified as a contributing factor. The city so far has confirmed that in 15 of the 20 deaths at Spring River, coronavirus was listed as a significant contributor. The results of the other five deaths have not been released.
The first case of COVID-19 at Spring River Christian Village — a resident — was reported on June 16. As a result, Spring River began testing all residents and employees.
Ray Dickison, chief operating officer for Christian Horizons, which runs Spring River Christian Village, said last week that the latest round of testing showed 73 residents infected with the virus, but 21 of those residents had recovered. Dickison also said 50 associates had tested positive for the virus.
Helms said she still doesn’t know whether her mother was tested for the virus before or after she died, and she is frustrated that she had little information from Spring River regarding her mother’s illness and death.
When asked to clarify, she said her complaint didn’t extend to any COVID-19-related policies or procedures that were undertaken at the nursing home complex, and she stressed that her mother had otherwise received good care there.
“I thought it was a very poor communication,” she said.
Spring River Christian Village, in an email to the Globe, said the matter couldn’t be discussed for privacy reasons.
“Due to our ministry’s privacy and confidentiality policies, we cannot provide specific information regarding an individual, current or former resident,” Dickison said. “Spring River Christian Village does provide a daily notification to residents, families and associates regarding COVID cases.”
According to the city, management at Spring River Christian Village has been working closely with the Joplin Health Department and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Section for Long-Term Care.
Spring River officials also said that a previous Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services infection control survey was conducted by the state health department and found the facility to be “deficiency-free and in compliance with all infection control measures. Spring River has been proactive in implementing all of the recommended practices and procedures provided by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for long-term care facilities to control the spread” of COVID-19.
“We continue to have an active testing plan, performing frequent COVID-19 tests for residents and associates,” Dickison told the Globe on Friday. “If a COVID test result is received, we notify the resident and/or their responsible party as soon as we receive the test result.”
Managing Editor Emily Younker contributed to this report.