Who has been affected by COVID-19? A look at Mahoning County’s death records

27 Investigates

WKBN sought to find out more about these deaths, how they were being categorized and why Mahoning County is among the counties in Ohio with the most coronavirus-related deaths

MAHONING COUNTY, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s like fighting a war, the CEO of a local nursing home said of his workers’ fight against a devastating virus that killed 27 people at his facility in just a couple of months.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus has left others unscathed, giving many the sense that the worst is already over.

“It is very slyly lethal. It can lead one group to think it’s no more than the flu, and it can be silently attacking other people,” said David Mannion, CEO of Crandall Medical Center in Sebring.

Coronavirus in the Valley over the past 4 weeks: Cases, deaths and hospitalizations

Mannion would know. He tested positive for COVID-19, though he had no symptoms other than a slight chill. Meanwhile, the virus quickly spread after the first case at Crandall on Friday, April 24, even after best efforts to keep it contained, which Mannion said included personal protective equipment for workers and a restriction on visitors.

Through June 5, the virus killed 27 people at Crandall Medical Center and sickened others. But Crandall wasn’t the only facility hit hard by the virus.

According to the county’s death records, there were 31 deaths recorded at Hospice House, and deaths were also reported at other long-term care facilities in the area, including Beeghly Oaks, which had eight

Mahoning County has been among the leading counties in the state for fatalities related to the coronavirus, so WKBN sought to find out more about these deaths and how they were being categorized.

READ: CLICK HERE TO SEE A DETAILED LIST OF THE COUNTY’S COVID-19 DEATHS

A review of the county’s death certificates showed that the victims of COVID-19 are people who doctors have said would be more susceptible to the virus — the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

“These [conditions] include heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, kidney failure, cancer, other immune-suppression illnesses, so those illnesses and those weaknesses of the body make the impact that coronavirus has much worse on those individuals,” said Dr. James Kravec, the chief clinical officer for Mercy Health in the Youngstown region.

Of the 172 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Mahoning County, as of June 5 when the records were gathered, seven of those victims were under the age of 60. One of those people, a 51-year-old Austintown man, had “significant conditions contributing to death,” (though not the underlying cause of death): asthma, arthritis and acute renal failure.

“Nationally, the deaths that we’ve seen that are under the age of 50 or younger people are those that have, typically, other chronic illnesses. For the most part, people, as they get older, develop more of those,” Kravec said. “That’s probably why the youngest death we’ve seen in our county is 50.”

Others died as a result of COVID-19, but often, other health issues were also listed in the cause of death, such as pneumonia, respiratory failure and septic shock.

Kravec said complications during a patient’s medical stay can lead to other illnesses.

“People get in the hospital and… COVID can lead to sepsis and pneumonia and other medical illnesses that are all related to the respiratory failure someone has. No different than other types of viral pneumonia or bacterial pneumonia can, but someone wouldn’t typically leave the hospital with a new illness because of COVID,” he said.  

Most of the death records do list COVID-19 as the cause of death, but other causes are also listed — some which appear to have been brought on by the virus and other conditions that the person had for years.

The records do show the devastating impact that the virus has had on nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

According to state health data, more than 1,300 deaths across the state came from long-term care facilities. Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton has said Mahoning County has an older population, which she said in a previous interview with WKBN in April likely led to the high number of fatal COVID-19 cases in the county.

Dr. Kravec agreed, noting they are still investigating why Mahoning County has seen more fatalities than many other counties in the state.

“We have more nursing homes than other communities, and we have people that are sicker. Not that other communities don’t have that, but we do have a higher number of those types of patients with the other chronic illnesses,” Kravec said.

Mannion said these long-term care facilities are trying to do everything they can to stop the spread, but the problem with COVID-19 is that it’s very contagious.

“There is a reason that the world is shut down, and I would just say when you see on the front lines people who are wearing gloves, masks, face shields, covers, when you see those people still getting it, then you understand,” he said.

Kravec said while it’s vital for visitors at congregate care facilities to wear masks and practice social distancing, it’s also important to continue having these visits.

“There’s the need for social interaction for the people in these facilities,” Kravec said. “It’s a balancing act that we need to make sure we take care of those people, realizing that the population in assisted living and nursing homes is absolutely the most at risk.”

At Crandall, Mannion said they took a proactive approach to screening, finding almost 50 people who were asymptomatic. He said while he believes that the government is doing everything it can to help control the coronavirus, one thing that could have helped early on would be access to unlimited immediate testing.

“I’m not aware of any facility that’s not trying to do anything they can. I don’t know that people realize how dangerous it is for people of advanced age,” he said.

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