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This Maryland nursing home has had no coronavirus cases. How did they do it?

Of the nation’s roughly 130,000 coronavirus deaths, more than 40,000 have occurred in nursing homes. But one facility in Maryland has had zero COVID-19 cases so far -- despite serving one of the most at-risk populations. Rev. Derrick DeWitt, director of the Maryland Baptist Aged Home, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss his facility’s proactive approach, systemic racism and a lack of federal leadership.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Of the nation's nearly 130,000 coronavirus deaths, more than 40,000 have been in nursing homes.

    Amna Nawaz brings us the story of one facility that is beating the odds.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I'm joined now by Reverend Derrick DeWitt. He's the director of the Maryland Baptist Aged Home. It's a 100-year-old nursing home that has had zero cases of COVID-19.

    Reverend DeWitt, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Rev. Derrick DeWitt:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, everyone knows the numbers, right? When you look at COVID deaths in long-term care facilities around the country, they make up some 40 percent of all COVID deaths in the nation.

    In Maryland, I think the number is over 60 percent. How did you beat the odds?

  • Rev. Derrick DeWitt:

    Well, I think the key was early, early mitigation, early proactive steps to make sure that this disease did not enter into our nursing home.

    And one of the things that I did was, I just listened to the news around the world and how this was affecting other countries. And then, when I heard — when I heard the president say, we only had 15 cases, and he thought that, by the end of the week, it would be zero…

  • President Donald Trump:

    When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero…

  • Rev. Derrick DeWitt:

    … I knew that it was time that we take action.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you basically didn't believe the president and took early action to lock down. Is that correct?

  • Rev. Derrick DeWitt:

    Well, that's correct, in a sense.

    I mean, I think us being in an underprivileged and underserved area of Baltimore City, we have kind of gotten used to the fact that, if help is going to come, it's probably going to come too late, so we need to be prepared to take care of ourselves.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, tell me a little bit about what exactly you did.

    When you say you acted early, what steps did you put into place back in February?

  • Rev. Derrick DeWitt:

    Well, the first thing we did, probably very end of February, 1st of March, we locked down the facility. We allowed no visitors in or out.

    We knew that, if the disease was going to get into the nursing home, it was going to come from the outside. And probably it was going to be an employee that brought it in.

    So, we have a very rigorous screening process when they come to work. And it's almost an hour-to-hour detail on what you did the 12 hours or 14 hours that you weren't at work. Who did you see? Who were you with? We take their temperatures. Everybody's wearing masks, gown, gloves when they have any contact with residents.

    We had a full-time quality assurance infection control nurse for years who set up a lot of measures that would help us in time of catastrophe or pandemic or even an epidemic.

    I took a lot of criticism for having a full-time person in a 30-bed facility, which most facilities even three times as large don't have a full-time infection control person.

    But, then, being a faith-based facility, a lot of people said, hey, you're overreacting. I thought you were a man of God and you had faith in God.

    And I just simply replied that, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. And I have faith in God, but I still wear my seat belt when I get in the car.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    One of the things we have heard from other people who run nursing homes and long-term care facilities is that they waited in some ways to lock down because they're also worried about the emotional well-being of their residents. And locking everyone down and keeping everyone in their rooms isn't necessarily good for them.

    How did you weigh that consideration?

  • Rev. Derrick DeWitt:

    Well, that weighed very heavily in what we did.

    So, one of the things that we did, we brought in extra activity staff to make sure that our residents had visits every day. And then, because they were taking meals within their rooms, we brought in a chef, a culinary expert, that could help our staff make sure that the meals were prepared in a way that was more pleasing for the residents.

    So, putting a flower on the tray kind of meant a lot. It's small things like that mean a lot to them, making sure that mealtime was still a happy time for them. And so we made sure that we took seriously the emotional health of our residents.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Reverend, we know now, nationally, the toll the pandemic has taken on black communities in particular.

    We know black Americans are disproportionately getting infected and dying as a result. What is it like for you to be kind of an island of safety, a COVID-free island right now, while the community around you is still very much in harm's way?

  • Rev. Derrick DeWitt:

    Well, Amna, we have had to — even at my church, with this pandemic going on, our neighborhood is unfortunate that we don't have even a supermarket within the entire zip code of where my church is located.

    So we're having to feed people seven days a week. Sadly to say, we are used to the disparities. This pandemic is affecting black and brown communities in a way. And it's because of the systemic racism that's built into the system that don't allow — food insecurity, for one, lack of access and affordability to proper health care.

    And so we know that we have to take additional extraordinary measures to protect ourselves.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And amid all of this, you have managed to keep your residents, your team, who the statistics say should be among the worst affected, you have managed to keep them safe.

    Do you think that you can keep that up, knowing we're still in — as experts say, in the first wave of the virus?

  • Rev. Derrick DeWitt:

    It is a massive undertaking to keep this going, because people are getting tired. People are getting frustrated.

    But we just try to encourage them to continue to be patient, continue to be strong and courageous in this fight, and to make sure that, keep your faith — keep your faith in God and keep doing what you know are the best practices for your residents.

    And we always simply err on the side of caution. If it's a minute, 1 percent chance that a resident is going to be affected, then we do not take that chance.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, we wish you safety, and we wish you good health and good luck ahead.

    That is Reverend Derrick DeWitt, the director of the Maryland Baptist Aged Home.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

  • Rev. Derrick DeWitt:

    Amna, thank you so much for having me. And thank you for telling our story. God bless.

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