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Families Urge More Transparency From Henrico Nursing Home Following COVID-19 Outbreak

Meg Medina's Aunt Isa lying on her bed at the nursing home before the COVID-19 outbreak with the family's baby cousin, Hudson.
Meg Medina's Aunt Isa lying on her bed at the Canterbury Rehabilitation and Health before the COVID-19 outbreak with the family's baby cousin, Hudson. The nursing home has a serious outbreak of COVID-19 cases and families voiced concerns they weren't getting enough information about their loved ones. (Courtesy: Meg Medina)

After nine deaths and nearly 60 confirmed COVID-19 cases at Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, the Henrico-based facility has stepped up safety procedures. But some families say they’re not getting enough information about their loved ones. 

Meg Medina’s aunt moved to Canterbury Rehab and Health about two years ago. She’s a 87-year-old stroke survivor with respiratory and other health issues.

“She basically requires assistance with most of her living needs,” said Medina.

Medina says about two weeks ago, the facility restricted visitors due to suspected flu cases. The next week, she got a call saying one patient tested positive for COVID-19, and several more were waiting for results. After that, says Medina, communications broke down.

“I learned about the first death of the covered patient on the six o'clock news, which is absolutely not the way you want to hear news like that,” said Medina.

Aunt Isa lying on a bed after Canterbury restricted visitors with a sign made by staff reading "Sending Hugs and Love! Miss you!"
Canterbury provided this image of Medina's aunt after the facility restricted access to visitors. (Courtesy: Meg Medina)

Medina spoke with the facility’s director who promised better communications. But she still had a lot of questions - especially as residents were moved into the COVID-19 isolation unit. 

“How are the spaces being properly decontaminated? Where are the new replacement nurses and CNAs coming from? Is there enough staff? Is there protective gear?”

Canterbury’s Administrator Jeremiah Davis said in a statement they have enough personal protective equipment and they’ve temporarily doubled nursing staff wages. The center reports that staffing is still an issue but has “stabilized.” The Center is also testing all residents and staff.

Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, says they’ve been meeting regularly with nursing home staff. On site visits, they’ve observed cleaning practices that exceed federal guidelines. And he says they’re putting symptomatic patients in isolation quickly.

“So as they find somebody who is newly diagnosed with the fever, they go to the isolation wing,” Avula told VPM. “And so those are best practices by the CDC for rehab facilities.”

But some family members are concerned Canterbury Rehab and Health isn’t doing enough to provide urgent information about residents. Joann - who preferred not to use her last name - says she made numerous calls following her mom’s COVID-19 test. When she finally talked to someone, they began by going over vitals until Joann had to ask if the test results came back. 

“And she said yes. And I asked what were they?  And she told me that my mother was COVID-19 positive,” Joann told VPM. “Respectfully I asked: When was I going to be notified of this? And politely I was told that she was telling me now, and that there were a lot of sick patients at Canterbury and they were doing the very best that they could do.”

Joann and Meg Medina both praise the tireless work of Canterbury staff caring for patients during this crisis. But they say families deserve regular and transparent updates so they’re not kept in the dark. 

“It's very disheartening when we hear all the statistics on the news, but we get no information by any type of medium,” Joann said.

Canterbury’s PR firm Caryl Communications said no one from the facility could speak directly with VPM because they were focused on the care of residents. But in a statement, they said they are “working hard to keep our families informed.”

Medina points out that “in the absence of information, all we have is panic.”

She is especially worried about her aunt because until a few days ago, she shared a room with Joann’s mom. She says no one from Canterbury reached out to let her know her aunt’s roommate tested positive for COVID-19. 

“It’s hard to have someone who’s so vulnerable in this situation and get no information. I don’t know, I think we deserve better than that,” said Medina.

The book jacket of Tia Isa Wants A Car written by Medina and inspired by her aunt.
Medina's 2011 children's picture book was inspired by her Aunt's tenaciousness in learning to drive, buying a car and helping the family establish roots in the United States. (Courtesy: Meg Medina)

Medina, a nationally recognized author, is very close with her aunt, who lived with the family until her health conditions worsened following her stroke. Medina’s award-winning 2011 children’s book “Tía Isa Wants a Car” was inspired by her aunt who saved up to buy the first family car after they emigrated from Cuba. Medina says Isa took bilingual driving lessons in secret and delivered on her promise, bringing home a Buick Wildcat. 

“It took us to where the bus couldn’t take us,” said Medina in a video explaining the origins of her book. “So if we wanted to visit a friend, if we wanted to go to a park that wasn’t near a bus route, if we needed to do our groceries, Tia Isa got in that car with that big, gigantic trunk, and she’d take us… My aunt, who nobody thought could do it, did it anyway.”

Medina and Joann went to the facility last weekend to connect with their loved ones through the windows. Joann held up a sign outside her mom’s new room in the isolation unit. It read: “Hello, mother, we love you. We care about you. We are hoping that you're going to feel better soon.”

Her mom waved, and through the glass, Joann listened as closely as she could and faintly heard her Mom’s voice. She said “I love you too, baby.“

 Joann reports that as of Monday evening, she’s been contacted by multiple Canterbury staff with updates about her mom, who for now - is holding her own. 

Family members also received a letter from Canterbury’s administrator Tuesday night laying out a plan for better communications, including daily email updates reporting the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and details on measures the facility is taking to stop the spread of coronavirus.