Elder care homes across the US have been hard-hit by the virus – though the true extent of the severity remains unclear, months in. One thing is certain, however – Covid-19 has yet again highlighted long-standing flaws in America’s health system.
When Michael Colwell received the call that his mother-in-law Helen Osucha had passed away at her nursing home in Geneva, Illinois, he says they told his family the 97-year-old died peacefully in her sleep.
A day later, the funeral home that had received Helen’s body told them she had Covid-19.
As they grieved, holding Helen’s funeral with family calling in on computer screens, the question remained. Why weren’t they told?
“It just didn’t feel that this is the way the world should work.”
Mr Colwell says the home informed them that there were “a case or two” of Covid-19, but they had no idea of the full extent.
“They telephoned us on the day of her death, late in the evening on the 26 of April and said she had passed away peacefully in her sleep. The fact that that’s how she went gave my wife some comfort. But then to learn the next day that she died of Covid-19 – it was a very big shock.”
Helen was a part of the Greatest Generation, Mr Colwell begins when asked to describe his mother-in-law. She lost a brother in World War Two. Her husband was a B-17 navigator, and they married when the war ended.
For years, she worked at a longstanding Chicago restaurant – the Como Inn – as a bookkeeper and waitress, making many friends among the close-knit Polish community. She often held family gatherings and was an active member of her church – a “kind-hearted, generous woman”.
“Maybe we could’ve said a prayer or done something,” Mr Colwell says. “Initially when they restricted visits from family because of the pandemic, we were told that if the [resident] was in fact dying, they would have hospice come in and we would be allowed to go in and see her.
“And of course, that never happened because we didn’t know.”
Mr Colwell’s lawsuit against Bria is one of six now levied against the facility over its coronavirus response.
Bria has placed the blame on a lack of testing, calling the virus a “silent enemy impossible to detect and difficult to defeat”, and says they followed public health guidelines as the situation evolved.
A spokeswoman for the home told the BBC: “We mourn the loss of our patients, for many of whom we cared for many years, and we share the anguish of their loved ones.”
What does the data show?
So far, facilities across the US have reported over 126,400 confirmed Covid-19 cases leading to the death of 35,517 residents and hundreds of staff to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Bria of Geneva has reported 16 Covid-19 deaths to CMS.
Johns Hopkins University puts the US death toll at over 133,000 as of 10 July – which means that by current federal figures, care homes account for a quarter of all US coronavirus deaths.
An analysis by the non-partisan Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity found 45% of US Covid-19 deaths came from nursing homes – a group that makes up just 0.6% of the US population.
But that still isn’t the full picture.
Many submissions to CMS have not passed data quality checks; homes are also not required to provide data from before May. This means that while some states seem to have shown promising numbers so far, there are caveats.
Why is it so bad?
University of California, Davis, Professor Debra Bakerjian, who worked as a nurse in the industry for 25 years, notes that the situation with Covid-19 has been changing rapidly while facility struggles around testing, understaffing and equipment have remained the same.
The lack of testing early on “was bad in hospitals [and] was worse in nursing homes”, she says, though it has since been improving. On top of that, guidance over how to diagnose coronavirus symptoms kept changing.
Residents in care homes are nearly impossible to isolate to begin with. Most facilities have only one or two private rooms. People share hallways, bathrooms, dining areas. A limited number of staff are responsible for multiple individuals, sometimes across buildings or homes throughout the community. Outbreaks in nursing homes in general are not uncommon.
When Covid-19 began to surge, the biggest concern for state and national officials was whether hospitals would be overwhelmed.
“But nobody was paying attention to what was happening in nursing homes, who were a much higher risk population,” Prof Bakerjian says. “It was going to be an even bigger problem because they don’t have the resources a hospital has – in terms of nursing resources as well as having the supply of appropriate personal protective equipment.”
Over 1,800 care homes nationwide reported to CMS they would run out of N95 masks in a week. Over 500 said they will soon run out of gloves. Dozens of facilities currently have no gowns or hand sanitiser.
Homes have also had to meet changing requirements with reporting to meet local, state and now, federal standards.
A clearer federal response may have also helped avoid the contentious policy decision by some states to have nursing homes take in Covid-19 patients from hospitals.
New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has become the face of this policy – and continued to defend it – though other states, including New Jersey, Michigan and California, enacted similar rules before reversing them.
But New York in particular has been under national scrutiny as, for months, it was the national epicentre. In its care homes, the state has seen over 10,500 confirmed cases of the virus and has lost at least 4,092 residents to Covid-19, according to CMS data, from a population of nearly 90,000. Local reports say the death toll is thousands above that figure.
In the states that also issued these orders, results were unfortunately similar. A ProPublica report found neighbouring New Jersey lost 12% of its home residents to the virus, compared to 1.6% in Florida, which did not enact such a policy.
Lawsuits across the country
Lawsuits against nursing homes like Bria have been filed across the country as family members grieve and reports of shocking conditions continue to emerge.
In New Jersey, the state with the highest average case count in care homes, 15 families are suing a facility that made national headlines when nearly 20 bodies were found stacked in a morgue built to handle just a few. Several families in Kentucky are suing a home for not properly educating staff about wearing protective equipment in Covid-19 patient rooms amid over a dozen deaths.
At the heart of all these cases is the simple fact that losing a loved one like this in a pandemic means families rarely have the chance to say goodbye, to grieve together, to have closure.
“No matter how long a parent lives it’s always a difficult thing to lose your parents,” Mr Colwell says.
What about staff?
It isn’t just patients and families taking issue with how care homes have handled the pandemic. There are reports of staff being told to work despite having Covid-19 symptoms, not having access to testing, not receiving proper training regarding Covid-19 or the need for personal protective equipment.
“One thing Covid has shown us is that we are failing as a society here in the US to take care of the people who took care of us when we were kids,” says Christopher Laxton, executive director of the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.
“We need to completely re-engineer and rethink how we do elder care in this country.”
Part of that involves recognising the struggles of staff, who Mr Laxton calls “the heroes of this pandemic”.
“They don’t get any glory, usually they get a lot of blame [but] they’re doing what they can under unbelievable circumstances.”
Bria’s spokeswoman also cautioned that lawsuits send a “dangerous message” to staff, and spark fears that paralyse and distract medical providers.
When it comes to situations like Bria’s, Mr Laxton notes that it can be difficult for the coronavirus to stand out in a population that is already sick.
“If for example, a staff member notices Mrs Jones is experiencing shortness of breath, that may well be because she has congestive heart failure,” he says, and that’s what they’ll try to manage first, especially without access to testing.
He notes there have been many success stories too – such as facilities where staff moved into the homes in order to curb the spread of the virus, despite a lack of adequate protective equipment for themselves.
So what happens next?
Democrats in the House of Representatives on 16 June sent letters to five for-profit nursing home companies dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, asking for documents related to these outbreaks, including data on testing, staffing levels, and legal violations, as well as information on how federal funding has been used.
A group of House Republicans on the same virus subcommittee have requested information from five Democratic state governors – Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, California’s Gavin Newsom and Mr Cuomo – over their policies to have homes take in Covid-19 patients.
Amid these inquiries, Covid cases have been rising across much of the US. Problems with testing and equipment are occurring at healthcare facilities nationwide.
“We haven’t seen the extent of the problem,” cautions Prof Bakerjian. “Our numbers are still going the wrong direction, though I think there’s a much more concerted effort now to try to make sure that nursing homes at least have the resources that they need.”
From education to understaffing to facility regulations, the industry has long been under-resourced and faces complicated systemic issues. While some – like the Colwells – hope lawsuits will result in real changes, others, like Mr Laxton, worry that after the pandemic, nursing homes will be forgotten once more.
“It’s an issue of value, of what we as a society think is important,” Prof Bakerjian adds.
“We wouldn’t stand for this if it was in our acute care hospitals where we were taking care of our children and our younger, working people.”
Akron, Ohio-based RVShare has seen sharp growth in demand amid the pandemic, as more would-be travelers seek socially distanced options for hitting the road. Founded in 2013, the company matches RV owners with prospective renters, filtering by location, price and vehicle types.
Previously, RVShare had raised $50 million in known funding, per Crunchbase data, from Tritium Partners. The company is one of several players in the RV rental space, and competes alongside Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV marketplace that has raised $75 million in venture funding.
BrightFarms closes on $100M: Indoor farming company BrightFarms said it secured more than $100 million in debt and new equity capital to support expansion plans. The Series E round of funding was led by Cox Enterprises, which now owns a majority stake in the company, and includes a follow-on investment from growth equity firm Catalyst Investors.
Anyscale inks $40M: Anyscale, the Berkeley-based company behind the Ray open source project for building applications, announced $40 million in an oversubscribed Series B funding round. Existing investor NEA led the round and was joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and Foundation Capital. The new funding brings Anyscale’s total funding to more than $60 million.
Klar deposits $15M: Mexican fintech Klar closed on $15 million in Series A funding, led by Prosus Ventures, with participation from new investor International Finance Corporation and existing investors Quona Capital, Mouro Capital and Acrew. The round brings total funding raised to approximately $72 million since the company was founded in 2019. The funds are intended to grow Klar’s engineering capabilities in both its Berlin and Mexico hubs.
Blustream bags $3M: After-sale customer engagement company Blustream said it raised $3 million in seed funding for product usage data and digital transformation efforts for physical goods companies via the Blustream Product Experience Platform. York IE led the round of funding for the Worcester, Massachusetts-based company with additional support from existing investors.Pillar secures another $1.5M: Pillar, a startup that helps families protect and care for their loved ones, raised $1.5 million in a seed extension to close at $7 million, The round was led by Kleiner Perkins.
Google rejects DOJ antitrust arguments: In the wake of a widely anticipated U.S. Justice Department antitrust suit against Google, the search giant disputed the charges in a statement, maintaining that: “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”
Facebook said to test Nextdoor rival: Facebook is reportedly testing a service similar to popular neighborhood-focused social Nextdoor. Called Neighborhoods, the feature reportedly suggests local neighborhood groups to join on Facebook.
Online shopping has become the norm for most people in 2020, even coaxing traditional retail brands to up their presence to stay competitive. However, now that shoppers can’t see and touch products like they used to, e-commerce discovery has become a crucial element for customer acquisition and retention.
Enter Syte, an Israel-based company that touts creating the world’s first product discovery platform that utilizes the senses, such as visual, text and voice, and then leverages visual artificial intelligence and next-generation personalization to create individualized and memorable customer experiences, Syte co-founder and CEO Ofer Fryman told Crunchbase News.
This brings the company’s total fundraising to $71 million since its inception in 2015. That includes a $21.5 million Series B, also led by Viola, in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.
Fryman intends for the new funding to be put to work on product enhancements and geographic expansion. Syte already has an established customer base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and will now focus expansion in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific.
Meanwhile, Syte has grown 22 percent quarter over quarter, as well as experienced a 38 percent expansion of its customer base since the beginning of 2020.
“Since we crossed $1 million annual recurring revenue, we have been tripling revenue while also becoming more efficient,” Fryman said. “We can accelerate growth as well as build an amazing technology and solution for a business that needs it right now. We plan to grow further, and even though our SaaS metrics are excellent right now, our goal is to improve them.”
Anshul Agarwal, managing director at LG Technology Ventures, said Syte was an attractive investment due in part to its unique technology.
“They have a deep-learning system and have created a new category, product discovery that will enable online shopping in a way we never had the ability to do before,” Agarwal said. “The product market fit was also unique. We believe in the strong execution by the team and the rapid growth in SaaS. We looked at many different companies, and the SaaS metrics that Syte showed are the strongest we’ve seen in a while.”
Denver, CO, October 21, 2020 – OTC PR WIRE – GenTech Holdings, Inc. (OTC PINK: GTEH) (“GenTech” or the “Company”), an emerging leader in the high-end Premium Coffee (www.secretjavas.com), Hemp Wellness (www.hakunasupply.com) and Functional Foods (www.SINFITnutrition.com) marketplaces, along with its SINFIT Nutrition brand (“SINFIT”), is excited to announce that the Company has signed a new marketing, sales, and distribution agreement (the “Agreement”) with TruLife Distribution (“TruLife”) (TruLifeDist.com), a leader in marketing, distribution, compliance, e-commerce, and advisory services in the Functional Foods marketplace. The main focus of the new Agreement will be to accelerate the growth of e-commerce sales of SINFIT products, particularly over the Amazon.com platform.
TruLife provides direct access to sales on Amazon, Walmart, Rakuten, Wish, TopHatter, and other top e-commerce platforms, allowing clients to instantly list, ship, and sell products through any major platform, with an experienced team of experts and a proven track record of success in brand placement and digital sales strategies.
“We have already demonstrated a significant & expansive growth curve since taking control of the SINFIT brand in June,” commented Harold Vaca, VP Domestic Sales of SINFIT. “But the vast majority of that growth has been driven by large purchase orders from major distribution partners, both domestic and international. We are also committed to aggressively pursuing end-market consumer direct purchases through our e-commerce footprint, which will provide additional growth and diversify our cash flow ecosystem, making our overall strategy less dependent upon any one source of demand, while driving further growth in total sales.”
Management notes that e-commerce sales represent a sizeable portion of overall retail sales growth worldwide, with more than $3.5 trillion in online sales accounting for over 14% of total pre-pandemic global retail sales. Since the onset of the global health crisis, that ratio has shifted decisively further in favor of e-commerce sales, which is not likely to entirely revert back upon the advent of a viable and widely accessible vaccine.
Vaca added, “We have seen an epic process of market penetration for e-commerce platforms this year as major online retailers have begun to reach a much wider base of consumers – people who haven’t ever shopped much online, but have been forced to during recent months out of personal health concerns. Many of them will almost certainly continue to make use of e-commerce now that they have tried it out, at least to some extent, making e-commerce an essential sales channel for SINFIT products. TruLife has the network, team, experience, and resources to dramatically augment our e-commerce performance.”
SINFIT branded products registered over $2.2 million in global sales in 2019, and are now approved for sale and available for purchase on the Walmart.com and Amazon.com e-commerce platforms as well as in over 2,500 GNC locations in North America and over 10,000 global physical and e-commerce stores across more than 10 countries around the world.
SINFIT products as well-positioned relative to peers and to the long-term macro tailwind defining the functional foods market, which saw sales top $267 billion in February of this year on a global basis, with sales in the US reaching $63 billion, according to Euromonitor 2020. This trend is part of a larger supportive momentum in the general category, with global sales of organic food and drink topping $105 billion in 2018 (Ecovia 2019). U.S. organic food sales also reached $47.9 billion, up 5.9% in 2018 (OTA 2019). In 2019, 77% of U.S. adults used dietary supplements, an all-time high (CRN 2019). U.S. supplement sales are estimated to have reached $49.3 billion in 2019, up 6.2% (NBJ 2019).
About GenTech Holdings, Inc.:
GenTech Holdings, Inc. is a publicly traded company under the symbol GTEH. The Company launched a high-end Coffee Subscription service in early 2020 called Secret Javas, owns a Functional Food company, SINFIT Nutrition and recently closed its acquisition on Products-Groups’ “Hakuna Supply”.
Forward-Looking Statements This press release may contain forward-looking statements, including information about management’s view of GenTech, Inc.’s future expectations, plans and prospects. In particular, when used in the preceding discussion, the words “believes,” “expects,” “intends,” “plans,” “anticipates,” or “may,” and similar conditional expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements. Any statements made in this news release other than those of historical fact, about an action, event or development, are forward-looking statements. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, which may cause the results of GenTech, its subsidiaries and concepts to be materially different than those expressed or implied in such statements. Unknown or unpredictable factors also could have material adverse effects on GenTech’s future results. The forward-looking statements included in this press release are made only as of the date hereof. GenTech cannot guarantee future results, levels of activity, performance or achievements. Accordingly, you should not place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements. Finally, GenTech undertakes no obligation to update these statements after the date of this release, except as required by law, and also takes no obligation to update or correct information prepared by third parties that are not paid for by GenTech.