There is absolutely nothing this country has done right in response to the pandemic, and that certainly includes electing a vulgar talking yam in 2016. Even the best things we've done, we did too late. But some horror stories are more horrible than others. (News Judgment 101 in the 2020s.) The provides one of those in its account of the nightmarish situation at the Southeastern Veterans Center outside of Philadelphia. It combines the worst aspects of our current mindless approach to public health with the lives of staff who are just trying to stay afloat in a sea of contagious chaos, with distant echoes of the Tuskegee experiments. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
The nurses and aides at the Southeastern Veterans’ Center in the suburbs of Philadelphia had watched so much go wrong since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The communal dining that lasted into April, the nights that feverish patients were left to sleep beside roommates who weren’t sick yet. “Merry Christmas,” one nurse told another when they finally got N95 masks, weeks into the crisis and just before administrators stopped staffing the isolation rooms because too many people were feared infected. But what worried some nurses most was what they called the “covid cocktail,” the widespread, off-label use of one of the antimalarial drugs touted by President Trump in March as a potentially game-changing treatment for covid-19.
For more than two weeks in April, a drug regimen that included hydroxychloroquine was routinely dispensed at the struggling center, often for patients who had not been tested for covid-19 and for those who suffered from medical conditions known to raise the risk of dangerous side effects...Though precise estimates vary, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said about 30 residents received the drug. Several nursing home staff members placed the number higher. The Chester County coroner, who reviewed the medical records for some of those who died, said at least 11 residents who had received the hydroxychloroquine treatment had not been tested for covid-19...
“Started on the Covid Cocktail,” the center’s records noted for an 86-year-old resident with a history of arrhythmia, resulting in a pacemaker placement. “Prophylactic,” the records said in describing the preventive regimen of hydroxychloroquine for a woman in her 80s who had a cough and was running a fever of 100.4.
Some of the nurses at the facility apparently raised holy hell about dosing asymptomatic patients with the president*'s preferred magic elixir without testing them for preexisting conditions that would make the drug contraindicated in their cases. But, of course, nobody listens to nurses.
“I am absolutely gobsmacked about the events that have occurred there,” said William C. Hunter, a Johns Hopkins-trained internist who served as the center’s medical director until he retired in December. “It was an untried cocktail. The risks and potential benefits were completely unknown — no real scientific studies were conducted.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer was onto the disaster at this facility early on. Now, the Post has a potful of emails and documents that flesh out the story of a place where medicine and science were overrun by what amounts to a pharmaceutical roulette wheel. The usual bureaucratic ass-covering is happening apace in the state government. This, of course, includes stonewalling the families of the residents, as well as any independent investigation.
“Why are we giving this to them?” one nurse recalled asking Shrikanthan after several residents with heart problems were placed on the drug regimen. Like five other caregivers at the home, the nurse spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss what happened. In response to the inquiry, the nurse said she was told, “This is the standard order.”
“I felt like I was playing Ring Around the Rosie,” she said. “Nobody wanted to sit and explain why. If that were my mom or dad, I would want answers.”
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