Patients of Brighton Rehabilitation And Wellness Center who do not yet have COVID-19 are being given an experimental treatment in hopes of keeping them virus free. The decision to administer an unproven drug regimen touted by President Donald Trump comes as the nursing home finds itself under the spotlight of international news organizations.
BeaverCountian.com has obtained a copy of a consent form provided this week to a family member of a patient in the facility, authorizing a prophylactic administering of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. A second family said they were asked to provide oral consent to have the treatment given to their loved one.
Brighton Rehab is currently at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Beaver County. The nursing home has not released infection statistics in over a week, but sources have told BeaverCountian.com more than 57 patients have been diagnosed with the virus and at least 11 have died. More than 10 staff members have also tested positive for COVID-19, according to their union the SEIU.
Brighton Rehab medical director Dr. David Thimons told BeaverCountian.com in an April 1 interview about experimental therapies being given to patients of the facility who have tested positive for COVID-19, although he made no mention at the time of possible preventative treatments for patients without the virus.
“We are using some medications to try to treat this that we think may work against this illness,” he said. “Most of those patients, not every one but most, are responding and getting better.”
Thimons had declined to go into detail about specific medications being tried as part of treatment, but did say Brighton Rehab obtained significant quantities of it.
“The reality is (the patients) are getting (medications) and they are getting better,” he said. “Is it the medications or is it God, or I don’t know, but it may be the medications.”
At that time, the nursing home had reported 3 deaths from the virus, a fraction of its current total according to sources.
A family member told BeaverCountian.com they were informed today that “hundreds of patients” at Brighton Rehab would now be offered the medications, excluding individuals who are taking drugs known to negatively interact or who suffer from certain disqualifying conditions.
“Medical research is currently underway to determine if a person taking the drug hydroxychloroquine in conjunction with a zinc tablet can be medically prevented from becoming infected with COVID-19,” the nursing home’s consent form says.
“I wish to proceed with this treatment as I believe it to be the best course of action in the current National Emergency,” the form concludes.
Hydroxychloroquine is a medication that has been repeatedly touted by Trump as a possible COVID-19 therapy during televised press conferences. Along with being used as an anti-malaria medication, the drug is also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease specialist, has sought to tamp down excitement about the medication, noting a current lack of empirical data on its effectiveness.
Brighton Rehab is refusing to answer any questions from reporters, but an infectious disease specialist not affiliated with the facility told BeaverCountian.com she thinks the nursing home is doing the right thing given the circumstances.
“There’s that saying, desperate times call for desperate measures, well here we are,” said Dr. Stacy Lane. “We all as a medical community have our backs up against the wall.”
Lane is the founding director of the Central Outreach Wellness Center (COWC), a small healthcare network that was first to provide drive-by testing for COVID-19 in Beaver and Allegheny counties. Her group was responsible for identifying a large percentage of cases initially diagnosed in the region.
Lane is not involved in the treatment of patients at Brighton Rehab.
“This thing is moving very, very quickly, faster than many things we have seen in this country,” Lane said.
“Doctors are trying to give the best care possible with the very little research that has been done in this short period of time … There have been small studies out of places like France for hospitalized COVID patients that showed significant benefit (with hydroxychloroquine), but these are very small sample sizes. But we don’t have time for FDA approval, we don’t have time for all of the processes to be in place, because people are dying now.”
In an April 6 press statement, Brighton Rehab said it was “beginning to shift away from counting test results, and presuming all staff and residents may be positive, while continuing to isolate and aggressively treat those who exhibit symptoms.”
The facility later clarified that it would continue doing testing of patients who were showing signs of possible COVID-19 infection, and that not all of its patients have been exhibiting symptoms.
The coronavirus outbreak at Brighton Rehab has made news both nationally and internationally, with coverage by CBS News, NBC News, People Magazine, and the UK’s Daily Mail, along with headlines on sites like The Drudge Report.
A family member of a patient who was asked to consent to the experimental treatment said the facility would not say how many patients have tested positive for the virus or have died.
“How am I supposed to know if this is a good idea or not without knowing how bad it is in there,” the person noted.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s figures from April 10 show a total of 139 reported cases of COVID-19 in Beaver County with 13 deaths.
Brighton Rehab currently houses about 468 patients, and employs approximately 300 union healthcare workers.
Several family members told BeaverCountian.com they do not trust Brighton Rehab. They cite the facility’s recent history of serious health violations, the large and rapid spread of COVID-19 in the facility, and the nursing home’s lack of transparency with both families and the public. The facility has also been involved in several high profile political controversies.
Lane did not comment on the way the nursing home is being administered, but said she understands how difficult the clinical situation can be for families.
Hydroxychloroquine can have serious side effects leading to sudden cardiac arrest, Lane said.
“The risk of this treatment is not zero but it is very low,” Lane said. “On the other hand, it appears the risk of death from COVID-19 for a population in a nursing home is extremely high. If you are weighing the risk verses reward, which is what you have to do in these situations, I think the answer is clear … I think (Dr. Thimons) is making a good decision offering this to patients … There is not definitive evidence yet that this will work, but there is some evidence, and right now that has to be good enough. They have to do something. They need to save lives.”
“If it was my grandmother in this nursing home I would want her to get this medication,” Lane concluded.
What follows is a document provided to a family who declined treatment without a written copy of the consent form:
CONSENT FOR EXPERIMENTAL POST EXPOSURE PROPHYLAXIS DURING A NATIONAL PANDEMIC
I, ________________________, understand and agree that:
1. The United States is currently under a pandemic, or widespread infection, of the COVID-19 virus, which is a potentially fatal and easily transmittable virus that primarily effects the ability of a person to breathe and can result in serious injury or death.
2. At the time of this Consent, there is no known medicine that can prevent someone from being infected with COVID-19.
3. Medical research is currently underway to determine if a person taking the drug hydroxychloroquine in conjunction with a zinc tablet can be medically prevented from becoming infected with COVID-19.
4. The use of hydroxychloroquine in conjunction with a zinc tablet is not currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for preventing a person from being infected with COVID-19. Because this treatment is not FDA-approved, taking hydroxychloroquine in conjunction with a zinc tablet is an “off-label” use, which is to say that the drug manufacturers of hydroxychloroquine, nor the FDA, have said the drug can be, or should be, used to prevent a person from becoming infected with COVID-19.
5. Generally, hydroxychloroquine has few side effects when used for short periods. The most common side effect is upset stomach. However, some serious side effects such as injury to the heart may occur. In addition to these risks, the use of hydroxychloroquine and zinc may harm you in unknown ways, and could cause serious injury, sickness, permanent injuries, and/or death.
6. Understanding the risks associated with the off-label and experimental use of hydroxychloroquine and zinc tablets to prevent becoming infected with COVID19, I wish to proceed with this treatment as I believe it to be the best course of action in the current National Emergency.