Virginia nursing homes on front line of COVID-19 battle

Posted at 1:29 PM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 06:11:35-04

NORFOLK, Va. - More than half of COVID-19 outbreaks reported by the Virginia Department of Health are in long-term care facilities.

Dozens of people have died, most notably at the Canterbury Rehab and Healthcare Center in Henrico County. To address the needs, Gov. Northam created a task force on nursing homes.

"These folks, just like hospital workers, are literally on the front lines," said Melissa Andrews, the President and CEO of LeadingAge Virginia, a non-profit group representing more than 100 aging service providers.

Long-term care facilities have faced a series of challenges during the pandemic, including staffing and access to personal protective equipment.

Staffing levels were already spread thin before the pandemic, Andrews said, so if any staffers are exposed and have to quarantine, that further hurts the levels.

In addition, many staffers are being told to only work at one facility during the pandemic. Many often split time between different facilities to earn more money. "There's a fear factor for them as well. When you're battling fear and trying to make ends meet, it's tough to make decisions on whether you can work in just one place," said Andrews.

The Department of Health generally is not telling other providers which facilities have cases, meaning staffers have to rely on word-of-mouth or the media. That's another challenge during the pandemic, but Andrews said staffers are being asked to be transparent.

Related: How a Norfolk nursing home is keeping its vulnerable residents safe during the coronavirus pandemic

In Hampton Roads, several long-term care facilities are reporting outbreaks, including five in the Western Tidewater Health District. Bon Secours Maryview Nursing Care Center in Suffolk says both staff and residents have tested positive, but isn't saying how many. All residents are now being tested and are isolated in their homes, a spokesperson said in a statement to News 3. "We follow safety protocols each and every time we care for our residents," the spokesperson added.

Perspective is needed when looking at the numbers at nursing homes, according to Andrews. "It's not necessarily because of anything the nursing home could've done better," she said. "It's because this disease is so insidious and you're talking about people who needed a higher level of care."

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