Mayor Jim Brainard

The mayor of Carmel, IN, has taken COVID-19 testing a step further. He has told local assisted living and nursing facility leaders that they are opening themselves up to negligent homicide charges if they fail to have their workers undergo weekly COVID-19 tests and a worker or resident dies. 

Operators are not necessarily buying the mayor’s tough talk, however. 

“I believe the mayor’s heart is in the right place, but his tactics are misguided,” Zachary I. Cattell, president of the Indiana Center for Assisted Living and the Indiana Health Care Association, said in a recent letter to the editor in a local newspaper. “Threat of criminal prosecution is not appropriate. Frontline caregivers are afraid for their freedom and safety ­— I have heard it. I invite him to join us in extolling the heroic work that is being done and to support adherence to guidance from our national and state public health efforts.”

Mayor Jim Brainard disclosed on April 3 that the city of Carmel would be coordinating COVID-19 testing at local assisted living communities and nursing homes through a new local lab, Aria Diagnostics. It already had begun testing first responders and city employees. He said that if a facility resident tested positive for COVID-19, then all residents of that facility should undergo testing.

“After consulting with medical practitioners and area hospital administrators about how to best use expanded testing capacity, it was recommended that we test nursing homes and assisted living facility staff. If a resident has already been identified as having the virus, then all the residents in that facility should be tested,” Brainard said in a news release. “We are fortunate to have a local entrepreneur who has quickly converted his business to perform large numbers of these much needed tests.”

Following the release of the plan, one long-term care facility caught the mayor’s ire. When ManorCare Assisted Living at Summer Trace did not respond to the mayor’s initial email about the plan, the mayor said facilities were subjecting themselves to negligent homicide charges if they didn’t comply. In a statement, ManorCare said it never intended to flout the order.

“It was never a matter of the center refusing to comply. We needed to assess this new request and compare it with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]-approved systems that were already in place for testing. The facility already had lab services in place, and has chosen to work with Eli Lilly,” ManorCare said.

Eric Essley, president and CEO of LeadingAge Indiana, said that although the mayor is well-intentioned, the mayor’s testing idea runs contrary to the current guidance of health authorities regarding testing.

 “The issue here that the industry has is the state Department of Health and CDC guidance don’t require such a testing regimen, so it’s difficult for our facilities to square what they are being told by the CDC and state Department of Health, and the municipality of Carmel, so there’s a disconnect there that is troubling and challenging for our members,” Essley told McKnight’s Senior Living.

The mayor has garnered national attention for his stance on testing — and generosity. Under his direction, affluent Carmel announced last week that it would donate 50,000 test kits to New York City. Recently established Apex Medical can make 12,000 test kits a day, the city of Carmel said.