COVID-19 takes devastating toll on Georgia nursing home

The last time Ralph Wilson and his brothers saw their mother Kathryn Wilson alive was on Mother's Day.

She was smiling through her window of her room at Westbury Medical Care and Rehabilitation in Jackson, Georgia.

"The last thing I heard her say was, 'That's my boys," Wilson says. "And she waved at us. She tried to throw us a kiss. She tried to invite us in, and we couldn't go in, but we knew."

The 93-year-old retired Burke County history teacher had beaten COVID-19, or so her family thought.

"She fought real hard," Wilson says.  "We felt like she was clear, but even with that, it just weakened her system so much, that she just could not fight any longer, I guess."

Westbury administrator Jennifer Vasil says they have been preparing for the pandemic for months: stockpiling personal protective equipment, cleaning, locking down the facility, canceling visitations.

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Still, Vasil says, this novel virus slipped into the facility.

Invisible, it suddenly seemed to be everywhere.

"It's like nothing I've ever seen before," Vasil says.

The first Westbury patient tested positive April 4, 2020, and others quickly followed.

By the end of April, soldiers from the Georgia National Guard had deep-cleaned the facility, and the administration had tested every patient and staffer.

That's when they saw how quickly the virus was spreading.

Dozens of patients tested positive, and Vasil says 75% of them showed no obvious symptoms.

"We knew that we had some positive cases.  But it was just devastating to see those positive numbers on paper," Vasil says.

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It’s been an uphill battle.

Over the past two months, 122 Westbury residents and 36 staffers have tested positive for COVID-19.

They have lost 31 patients to complications of the virus.

"It's a daily reality, as you pull in the parking lot, and know that there are 31 residents that have passed away as a result of this virus," Vasil says.  "And, (we know) that we have others that are still fighting it."

As Kathryn Wilson battled COVID-19, her son says Westbury called, texted, and left messages, keeping his family in the loop.

"The end result was not what we wanted," he says.

Living to the age of 93 may seem like a long life, but Ralph Wilson wishes they'd had more time with his mother.

Still, he says, he and his brothers have no regrets.

"If we had to go back and play this, we would not have changed anything," Wilson says.  "We would've brought her right back here again.  Even though the end result was her death, there is no other place we would have brought her."