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Indiana order blocks local bans on virus patient moves

Haven Lunsford of Washington, Ind., acknowledges a horn honk outside Washington Nursing Center at 603 E. National Hwy in Washington, Ind., Monday afternoon. Protesters were unhappy about the surprise transferring of family and friends from the facility. The owner of the company, Chosen Healthcare, was attempting to move the longtime residents to different facilities it owns in Indiana so they could allegedly turn the facility into a COVID-19 hospital. (AP photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Nursing homes around Indiana will be allowed to establish facilities specifically for coronavirus patients under an order issued Tuesday by the state health commissioner that prohibits local officials from blocking the transfer of such patients.

Elderly people and those with serious health troubles living in nursing homes have been among the most at-risk from COVID-19 infections. At least 46 residents of 12 long-term care facilities in Indiana have died with virus illnesses, including 22 patients at an Anderson nursing home, according to the state health department.

But an attempt by a nursing home operator to concentrate coronavirus patients at a facility in the southwestern Indiana city of Washington met opposition from local residents and was banned by the county health officer. Officials in eastern Indiana’s Delaware County issued a similar order earlier this month.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said she has worked closely with local health departments but the statewide order can help nursing homes protect residents who aren’t ill and better care for those with coronavirus infections.

“We fully believe that this is a necessary step to help to further protect the vulnerable residents in our 92 counties,” Box said.

The action came after state health officials said Indiana’s COVID-19 death toll had grown by 37 to a total of 387. Those new reported deaths occurred between March 15 and Monday. That total didn’t yet include the state’s first prison inmate fatality, which occurred with Monday’s death of a Westville Correctional Facility inmate who was older than 70, according to the state Department of Correction.

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