Illinois coronavirus cases at nursing home may be undercounted, families demand answers

JOLIET, Ill. (WLS) -- As the mounting death tolls from COVID-19 at nursing homes in Illinois and around the country grow, there are questions over whether case counts are much higher than what's being reported.

COVID-19 has spready quickly through nursing homes, leading to pressure on federal health to publicly track infections and deaths.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there are about 100,000 people living in 1,200 long-term care facilities across the state, but it is unclear how many of those residents are infected with the coronavirus.

RELATED: Families demand more transparency from nursing homes amid COVID-19 crisis
EMBED More News Videos

Their loved ones contracted the coronavirus while the nursing homes were under a quarantine, families want more information about how it was spread.

As of Wednesday, Illinois reported 1,587 cases associated with long-term facilities. Of those, 296 people, both patients and staff, have died. But are those reported numbers accurate?

"I believe that reported cases are the tip of the iceberg," said attorney Steven Levin. "I believe we are going to find a scary situation once independent observers can go into the nursing homes to see what's happened."

Gerald Francis was one of at least 22 people to die as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at Symphony of Joliet nursing home. He died April 14, but his family said they weren't even aware he had the virus until the day after he passed.

"I don't know how much he suffered. How much did he suffer? I don't even know I don't even know how he died," Mary Ann Francis, his widow, said.

"'Mary Ann,' he says, 'they're killing me here.' He says, 'you gotta get me out of here,'" she added.

Nancy Warriner was 82, and until last week she was also a resident at Symphony of Joliet.

"They made it sound like she was just sick. It was two days later before I found out that my mom was COVID positive and I felt like I had to pull that out of them," Verna Clark, her daughter, said. "They didn't just offer the information."

Symphony would not talk about that specific case due to privacy laws but say family members are notified immediately if their loved one is symptomatic.

"All priority and attention is given to treating the patient and then unfortunately communicating has to come after the fact," Allison said.

While nursing homes are obligated to report COVID-19 cases and deaths to the state, many are believed to be undercounting.

"Our members are telling us they're seeing more cases in the nursing homes than what the employers are reporting," said Shaba Andrich, SEIU Healthcare. "If someone goes to the hospital they pass away at the hospital, then at that point it's considered a death at the hospital. It's not necessarily counted at the nursing home."

The lack of clarity and communication is not just a problem for nursing home residents and their families. Just recently two staff members at Beverly View's Bria of Forest Edge passed away. Their co-workers suspect, but still don't know, whether COVID-19 was the cause.

"We are scared. We are scared to come here because they are not telling us what is going on," said Kenya Hooper, certified nursing assistant.

As of now, there's no national database tracking the numbers, but the Associated Press says its tally is up to around 5,000 deaths.

A plan was finalized on Tuesday for nursing homes to report their COVID-19 infection data to the feds.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.