PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. — Emails recently obtained by the 41 Action News Investigators show a push by Johnson County leaders to get health and safety equipment to Brighton Gardens of Prairie Village in late April amid a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the senior living facility.
According to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, or JCDHE, there have been 78 cases and 14 deaths related to COVID-19 in the long-term care facility.
JCDHE Deputy Director Brad Mason sent an email April 29 to Brighton Gardens Executive Director Lisa Barnes that indicated the county was sending 250 boxes of medium and large gloves and 120 bottles of hand sanitizer to Brighton Gardens. The email also hinted at communication issues with the facility.
"There appears to be some confusion regarding your needs," Mason wrote.
Mason's email said Brighton Gardens Nursing Director Brooke Nickles had indicated "your only need was for gowns," but based on a conversation with Barnes he was going to send the gloves and hand sanitizer anyway.
"Please understand reporting your PPE needs on a weekly basis is very important to our processes," Mason wrote in the email to Barnes.
Last week, an email from Brighton Gardens' corporate owner Sunrise Senior Living to families of residents indicated Barnes would be transitioned out of her role as executive director and replaced by Nickles on an interim basis.
Last week, the 41 Action News Investigators asked JCDHE Director Dr. Samnni Areola about the supplies his agency has provided Brighton Gardens.
"We have supported that, because the primary goal is to save lives," Areola said.
Multiple current and former employees claim staff had been requesting additional health and safety equipment for weeks before the county health department intervened.
A medical assistant at the facility, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, slipped Johnson County Department of Health and Environment investigators a note about the lack of equipment and lack of staff communication the first time they visited the facility amid the outbreak.
The same employee claimed staff in the assisted-living area of the facility were reusing gowns and masks before county health staff stepped in.
"Our community has sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and team members are wearing full PPE (masks, gowns, gloves, goggles) when providing care to residents with a COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms," Sunrise Regional Vice President of Operations Denise Falco wrote in an email last week. "In addition, we are monitoring PPE use within the community to identify any need for team member coaching and retraining to support infection control protocols."
Family members of residents told the 41 Action News Investigators the cost to live in Brighton Gardens' assisted-living area ranges from $4,000 to $10,000 per month depending on the level of care needed. Some of those people said only a fraction of that cost is covered by Medicare.
"We're looking for opportunities to improve their processes," Areola said last week.
Falco also indicated last week that all residents and staff who first tested negative for coronavirus had been tested twice.
On April 29, Barnes sent an email to Nickles with the subject "Numbers for Tests," which indicated there were 150 employees and 112 residents to be tested who hadn't already tested positive for the virus.
Nickles forwarded that email to Johnson County Disease Investigator Serina Taylor.
By that time, there were at least 21 cases and three deaths at Brighton Gardens, based on JCDHE reports on April 25.
Other emails show that Nickles sent a color-coded map to Taylor of where residents who had tested positive and negative lived at Areola's request.
JCDHE Epidemiologist Elizabeth Holzschush sent an April 28 email to various Johnson County officials, which indicated that the virus "has now spread to all of their wings/units. They say they've been filling out the PPE survey, but are still short on gowns and hand sanitizer in particular, although gloves are going to be a need [sic] soonish. They are all set with masks. Is there any way to move them to the front of this line?"
Areola noted that Brighton Gardens was among Johnson County long-term facilities in dealing with outbreaks.
"We've had quite a few outbreaks in similar facilities and at least five of them have contained the spread," Areola said last week.
According to the JCDHE website, there are roughly 150 long-term care facilities in Johnson County.
Through Wednesday, records show outbreaks of at least 12 positive COVID-19 patients at four other senior care facilities in Johnson County. None have more than 22 cases and only one of those outbreak sites, Homestead of Olathe North, has experienced more than two deaths.
That makes the 78 COVID-19 cases and 14 deaths at Brighton Gardens, which reported its most recent case on May 13, an outlier among similar facilities.
Stratford Commons in Overland Park, which has been the site of 22 cases, and Homestead, which has had 21 cases, haven't had a new reported case since May 7 and May 5, respectively.