BOSTON — Priscilla Flint-Banks’ buried her mother Ruby on April 29, one day after what would have been her 88th birthday.
“Everybody that knew her loved her," said Flint-Banks. “We called her Mother Kinnery. Very sweet, outgoing person.”
Ruby Kinney’s cause of death was COVID-19, but Flint-Banks says the staff at her mother’s nursing home in Boston never told her Ruby was sick.
“Never did no one say, ‘We’re isolating her because of this or we’re putting her there because of that,’ said Flint-Banks. “I still don’t know what happened.”
Flint-Bank is not alone in her grief.
As of Monday, there are nearly 20,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in long term care facilities - that includes residents and staff. Additionally, there were nearly 4,000 deaths. That’s 61% of all the coronavirus-related deaths in the state.
A recent New York Times report shows African American and Latinx residents in nursing homes, where they are the majority, are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 than their white counterparts, regardless of location, size, or government rating.
“A friend of ours we grew up with just last night we found out passed away from it," said Flint-Banks. “I’ve lost at least two or three cousins. My mom. Clearly the black community is not being treated the way these other communities are being treated.”
Rebecca Cokley is the director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress. She says unequal access to federal funding, historical racial discrimination, and the Trump Administration’s move to deregulate nursing home standards are to blame.
“We keep the workforce poor, we keep these centers poor,” said Cokley. “And therefore, they’re not able to deliver the level of service that our aging communities across the board need. But our agencies specifically in communities of color deserve.”
The state doesn’t track specific racial data when it comes to analyzing coronavirus cases in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
In accordance with a new $130-million biweekly infection control audit, 36% of nursing facilities were not in adherence to the state guidelines. In a Tuesday briefing, Marylou Sudders, Massachusetts’ Secretary of Health and Human Services said the state’s nursing home tracking is a work in progress.
“We’re in a process of really understanding what the issues are in nursing homes and putting the processes in place to stabilize, and not just stabilize but to move forward,” said Sudders.
Flint-Banks has formed the Boston Black COVID-19 Coalition with other advocates, calling for demographic tracking in nursing homes and better access to coronavirus testing for communities of color.
She says every day has been tough, but the work is necessary.
“I have to take it a day at a time," said Flint-Banks. "The fact that we could only have like 10 people at her home-going was just so sad because we know if we was in a normal time we would have been able to really pour out the love.”
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