Center Home for Hispanic Elderly in Humboldt Park.

HUMBOLDT PARK — Center Home for Hispanic Elderly marked a grim milestone last week: It had the most deaths due to coronavirus out of any nursing home in the city, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data.

At the Humboldt Park facility at 1401 N. California Ave., an alarmingly high percentage of infected residents have died. Center Home had 62 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 26 deaths as of May 15, according to state data.

Center Home spokesman Gary Mack confirmed the state’s death toll, but he said the nursing home has 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19, not 62 — which would mean one out of every two sickened residents have died.

The discrepancy further illustrates what Chicago news outlets have reported for weeks: The state’s longterm care facility database is inconsistent and incomplete. But by any metric, it is clear Center Home is battling a devastating outbreak with a high death toll.

Only one other nursing home in the state has recorded the same number of deaths: Meadowbrook Manor in suburban Bolingbrook. But Meadowbrook had 184 confirmed cases as of May 15, according to state data.

A Center Home worker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, said the Humboldt Park nursing home is struggling to keep residents and workers safe, like many other nursing homes throughout the city.

Nurses and other Center Home workers have limited protective gear and little administrative support, according to the worker. That, combined with the high number of deaths and cases, has created a “very, very depressing” environment, the worker said.

“It’s like walking into a world that you don’t even know, that you couldn’t even imagine in your mind exists,” the worker said.

“The residents are walking around like zombies. They’re looking for what’s familiar and they don’t see that anymore. … They’re used to sitting in the dining rooms and eating and seeing their friends. They’re very sad. They’re very depressed. The ones who were up and about, taking showers and dressing up every day, are now in bed.”

Nurses and other workers are struggling to cope as the deaths soar, the worker said.

“It’s like going to a funeral every day. … You know how you get out of the car, but you greet all of these people who are grieving? That’s how nursing is,” the worker said. “Everybody is grieving. Everybody is afraid they’re going to take it to their children, take it to their mothers.”

In a written statement, Mack said the nursing home is continuing to “use all of the best practices in infectious disease protocol” from local and federal health departments.

Mack pointed to the spike in infection among Latino residents in Chicago as a factor in Center Home’s high death toll.

“Despite our best efforts and even when following every available public health safety protocol, Center Home, like nursing homes throughout the world, [has] experienced deaths due to our elderly population, the contagious nature of COVID-19 and numerous comorbidities of nursing
home residents, especially those in the Hispanic community as noted by the articles put out by Block Club in April of this year,” Mack said.

‘You Ask God To Help Those Who Need You’

Nursing home deaths now account for nearly 50 percent of the coronavirus deaths in the state, according to reports.

The coronavirus outbreak has exposed many of the long-running problems nursing homes have faced for years.

Center Home nurses and other workers don’t have easy access to protective gear like masks and gloves. They have to specifically request them from administrators, according to the worker who asked not to be named.

“You have to call and say, ‘If I don’t have an N95 mask or hazardous suit or shield, I won’t be at work,'” the worker said.

The worker said N95 masks often break in the middle of a shift and nurses can’t get replacements. The nurses have been tying the broken mask in knots and then wearing two or more masks on top, according to the worker.

Mack said the nursing home has maintained “appropriate amounts” of personal protective equipment.

It’s also become extremely difficult to keep infected residents isolated, the worker said. Residents routinely wander into isolation rooms occupied by infected residents and touch doorknobs and other objects and surfaces in the rooms, the worker said.

Mack also disputes this account. The spokesman said infected residents are “completely separated.”

“They’re in a separate wing behind closed fire doors that are impossible to open,” he said.

Mack told Block Club in April the nursing home does not conduct COVID-19 testing in-house. Residents are monitored 24/7 for symptoms and are sent to a hospital if symptoms worsen.

However, other nursing homes, like Woodbridge Nursing Pavilion in Logan Square, are testing in-house. Woodbridge is even testing asymptomatic residents. It’s not immediately clear why some nursing homes are doing widespread testing and others are not. 

Like many nursing homes throughout the state, Center Home is also “very short-staffed,” according to the worker.

“I’m talking very short. I’m talking no staff for the night shift, no staff for the 2-10 p.m. shift, and they’re staffing the day shift because they’re pulling from other departments,” the worker said.

One nurse has died from COVID-19, Mack confirmed. Another 28 nurses and workers have been infected.

The nurse who died had been working at Center Home for up to 15 years and had recently been working a lot of overtime, according to the worker. She was 64, the worker said.

“It was like a family member had died,” the worker said. “One week after testing [positive], she was dead.”

In response to the death toll, Mack said in a written statement, “We are greatly saddened by the loss of life at Center Home and we offer our deepest sympathy to grieving family members.”

According to Mack, conditions have gotten better in recent weeks; only one Center Home resident has tested positive for coronavirus since May 1, he said.

“We hope that’s some encouragement that we are past the worst of this,” he said.

The worker said she’s been gardening at home to cope with all of the trauma she experiences at work.

“When you get time to sit down, it’s important to you that you look out the window and see trees budding because of life. Life is what’s important,” the worker said. “You say your prayers in the morning, you say them at night. You ask God to help those who need you.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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Logan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.orgnnLogan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale Twitter @mina_bloom_

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