My brother is in a nursing home where everyone is presumed to have COVID-19. All we can do is pray | Mark O’Keefe

(Image via Getty Images.)

I woke up with a start and was wide awake. I looked at my nearby radio clock, which flashed 3:10 a.m.

I wished it was flashing 7 or even 6. I knew it was going to be another long restless night, thinking mainly about my brother John, a resident at the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County.

It’s been a long and crazy two weeks plus since we first got word that a resident at the center had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Now, everyone is presumed to have the illness, according to multiple published reports.

A guardian called my sister to tell her the bad news. The guardian also said my brother was refusing to be tested and didn’t want to move from his living quarters to another supposedly safer location. We knew John was in danger because not only was he 70 years old, he had had two heart attacks and was a smoker.

We tried to call the center to see if we could get more information about his status. After getting the runaround from the front office, we were able to talk to a doctor who said John had agreed to be tested but the results wouldn’t be known until the next day.

That was probably my longest night without sleep. The center called late the next afternoon, telling us that he had tested negative. Wow! What a relief that was! I asked if there was any way that I could talk to John. No one from our family had been able to see him since the center stopped visitors from coming in the middle of March.

We had no idea what he was thinking. Did he know about the virus and everything going on? Did he know why family members had stopped visiting? Mainly, though, we just wanted him to know that his family cared very much about him and his health.

Responding to Capital-Star story, Pa. lawmaker calls for investigation of Erie nursing home

The center gave him a phone to call me, and we had a great conversation, which lasted about an hour. I asked him several times if the center was treating him well and he said yes each time. I knew he had been happy or at least content since moving into the center about five years ago.

John also said that he had a television in his room and watched a lot of CNN to get news about the virus. He realized this was a serious situation and also knew the reason why the family stopped visiting him. Overall, he sounded calm, which made me feel calm.

That night I slept great.

However, the next day, there was more unsettling news about the center. There were reports that the virus was spreading and several residents had to be hospitalized. There were also reports that the staff at the center was complaining about not having enough gloves and masks to do their jobs.

Some even quit their jobs, feeling that their lives were in danger. Officials at the center continued to say they were doing everything they could to halt the spread of the virus but there was no doubt the center seemed to be in turmoil, which was somewhat to be expected with the country in the throes of an unprecedented pandemic.

Short on staff and supplies in a pandemic, Erie nursing home employees say they’re not getting the help they need

According to a story in the Beaver County Times, after its first confirmed case, officials issued regular public statements informing the press and the public about how many of its residents had tested positive and were being treated in the facility’s COVID-19 area in the east wing of the building.

But that changed on April 6 when officials stopped providing numbers in their daily update, and then stopped issuing updates whatsoever. Officials said they were no longer looking at testing numbers, and were presuming everyone was positive. They clarified that statement on Tuesday, saying that they will still test patients who show symptoms.

At last count, at least 50 residents had tested positive for the virus.

That policy change further angered me and other family members. We wondered what was behind the change. Were things worse than what officials at the center had been saying?

The Beaver County Commissioners also questioned the change, saying more transparency was needed not less.
Commissioner Tony Amadio told the Beaver County Times that “I wish they were a little more transparent for the families and the loved ones’ sake. They have to have the knowledge. They have to feel those patients are being protected and safe.”

In the midst of this, we figured another call to the guardian was in order. The guardian said she does talk to John regularly, and he’s being quarantined. She added that he’s not shown any symptoms of the virus and overall he seems to be holding up well.

While that was comforting, it was troubling that there was nothing we could do for John. We know he was still at a high risk for the virus. We also know that if he does eventually get the virus, he could possibly die alone.

So, we wait and worry, knowing full well that John’s condition could change any second. Who knows how long we’ll have to wait. Is it weeks, months or even longer?

It sure doesn’t help being confined to our house. A steady diet of the news, Facebook and Netflix does little to take our minds off of John.

The days are long but the nights are even longer. Those 3 a.m. wake-ups come more often. All we can do now is pray.

Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., is the former editorial page editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.