Ruth Ogden turned 100 in May 2020. Her celebration of a milestone most do not reach should have been spent surrounded by a loving family, but instead she sat alone in her wheelchair beside a small table. Bright flowers sat upon a white tablecloth, and a single mylar balloon rose was behind her.
There were no cheerfully lit candles, nor was there a cake or friends and family with whom to share it. No cherished family voice sang “Happy Birthday” to her or urged her to open presents. Ogden, as did so many of her peers, spent her birthday and many other days leading up to it, alone.
This is the hidden reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jim Kitchen, Ogden’s grandson. Kitchen’s grandmother is a resident of Boyd County Nursing and Rehabilitation, and he is the first to say that her care there has been exemplary.
“I did my research,” Kitchen said of the time he had spent choosing a place to care for his grandmother. “Boyd County Nursing and Rehabilitation has an excellent reputation, and I have heard only good things about them.”
Kitchen’s opinion of the facility hasn’t changed during the pandemic, either, he said. “They were one of the first to lock down because of COVID-19,” Kitchen said. “Even before the suggestions and mandates, they locked everything down and have since put forth Herculean efforts to keep their residents safe. And for seven long months they kept it at bay.
“But you can only hold back the tide for so long,” he continued, “and COVID 19 is relentless.”
The beginning of the lockdown was difficult enough for Kitchen, who is from the area but currently resides in Illinois. Visits to the facility were difficult, but Ogden is also suffering from dementia, which makes telephone calls or video calls more difficult and causes her stress and a high degree of agitation. This left him with no means other than the updates the facility sent to him; and specific information was often not forthcoming due to HIPAA regulations. The facility was not allowed, for example, to even let him know if his grandmother’s roommate might have tested positive, because that would have violated privacy regulations.
Unable to be there in person, Kitchen waited for these updates, and shared the information he could gather on his Facebook page.
“The telephone updates began in June,” Kitchen said. “The telephone updates tell you where they are with regards to infection, and so forth. This is the stuff you are terrified about, but you know they are trying to stay ahead of all this.
“It was in June that they had a staff member test positive,” Kitchen added. “My understanding is that they sent them home for two weeks, and they weren’t allowed to come back until they had two negative test results. But,” Kitchen said, “that was a single staff member in all of June, and no one else. Then in August we had a second staff member test positive. So that is two employees who have been positive. But once they have a negative test, we don’t hear about them anymore.”
Kitchen said that it was late July or early August when the Boyd County Nursing and Rehabilitation released its lockdown.
By September, cases began to emerge. At present day, there have been dozens of cases connected to the facility, however Boyd County Nursing and Rehabilitation or the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department declined comment and failed to respond to inquiries, respectively, regarding details about the cases.
“The worst part of it all was that it was like watching a slow-moving train wreck,” Kitchen said. “You can see what is coming, but you are helpless to stop it — it just keeps rolling on. And the numbers in those updates keep going up, and you realize that now it’s just over. It’s loose inside the facility.”
Ashlander Michael Mussetter was admitted to Boyd County Nursing and Rehab two and a half years ago after surgery.
"They locked down in March and, for months, everything was fine and we never had any problems," said Mussetter, 70. "Then, all of a sudden, one of the staff got C-19. That's what we call it here."
He said his roommate caught it first and about a week later, he was told he had tested positive for COVID-19. He was moved to a private room.
"We have three hallways here and the first thing they did was block off Hallways 1 and 3,” he said. "Then, it started spreading so fast, they needed more room. ... Every time you turn around, there were more people infected."
Mussetter said he is generally in good health; his symptoms are dry cough, fever, loss of taste and smell, runny nose, sneezing and an upset stomach. He said he thinks it has been three or four weeks since his diagnosis, but added he's not sure because it's difficult to keep track of time.
"Before we had the C-19 ward, we were tested twice a week," he said. "Now, there's not as much testing."
He said his temperature is monitored daily and it fluctuates some. He's taking increased amounts of some medications, namely aspirin to control the fever and supplements like zinc and vitamins.
"My doctor wants me to rest and sleep a lot," he said, adding since he's been in a private room he's been able to get more rest. "They bring in food and I try to smell it, but I don't. One day, they brought in a meal and all I could taste was broccoli. Today, they brought lasagna and the noodles were flavorless, but I scraped off some of the sauce and it had a little flavor."
While he said he's feeling better, Mussetter said he's aware of five or six residents who have died from COVID-19.
"There's only one here who doesn't have it, and they don't say he had it and got better or never had it," Mussetter said, noting many residents have been hospitalized.
But he said the staff has been great about communicating.
"Every day, they come around and give you an update," he said. "Then, they have this machine that calls you on the phone and lets you know how things are."
He said he just wishes everyone would take the virus seriously.
"This hits all ages, not just the old ones. Every day, people of all ages are getting it," he said. "If you have a good immune system, you can handle it better."
Although he said he tries to keep an upbeat attitude, Mussetter said he's not hopeful for a quick end to the pandemic.
"I don't think it's going to go away, probably until next year or later," he said. "A lot of these young people in the 20s think they're healthy and not sick, but they're spreading it like crazy. They think they're going to live forever, but they're killing off a lot of people."