Local long-term care facilities respond to COVID-19

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Two COVID-19 deaths have been reported at The Sanctuary at the Woodlands in Cullman. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Medical professionals continue to face the effects of COVID-19, especially in Alabama and parts of the Southeast, and the Cullman area’s medical facilities have not been immune. The Tribune reached out to ask how local nursing home and assisted living facilities are being impacted and how professionals are responding.

Note: The Tribune could not verify claims made by any facility or organizational spokespersons, but posed questions and presented the responses as given.

Cullman Health & Rehab Center, The Folsom Center, Woodland Village, Woodland Haus Assisted Living and The Sanctuary at the Woodlands (subsidiaries of USA Healthcare) 

USA Healthcare CEO Frank Brown told The Tribune, “We have one case now that’s isolated at our alternative site; that’s (The) Sanctuary. We take all discharges and readmissions from the hospitals and send them over there for 14 days in case they have the virus; we test them once they get there. We require two tests from the hospital and we put them over there for 14 days before we move them back into units that we have at the nursing home where they spend another 10 days.” 

According to Brown, “There’s been two deaths in Cullman (facilities) since March; they were both at The Sanctuary.” 

What precautions are in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19 in your facilities? 

“Basically, we screen all of our employees every day on every shift. They have to answer a questionnaire that has about 20 questions on it. We check their temperature and we ask them if they’ve had symptoms, and there’s seven or eight symptoms we hone in on. If they’ve had any of those, we send them back home before we can test them which is usually within the same day, and then we have about two days before we can get it back. That’s the employees. 

“We don’t allow any vendors into the building and haven’t since the 15th of March and we’ve been screening our employees a little before the 15th. When we get new patients, we put them into isolation and observation. We test them as well; he testing in some cases that we’ve got from some hospitals has not been accurate, but that doesn’t mean everybody’s haven’t been accurate. I’m not pointing fingers. So, we test again with a nasal pharyngeal test, and we get two of those positive, and then they have to stay 14 days within The Sanctuary. 

“Our staff is well-trained and well-equipped. We take care of them. They only work on one hall in one unit- they don’t cross units- so we practice really good infection control; we don’t cross-contaminate. We scrub the air in some of our units, we actually do it outside of our units, so we try to keep the virus outside. We just practice good infection control. Beyond that with hand washing, wearing masks- we’ve been in full masks since April. We’ve been very fortunate; we didn’t even have a case until the middle of June.” 

Westminster Assisted Living 

Administrator Wanda Raines said Westminster has had no cases of COVID-19.

As to procedures, Raines said, “We’re doing screening for all employees and essential medical staff that come in, and we have no visitation in the building unless it’s essential medical care. All sanitation- we’re doing all that’s done.” 

Hanceville Nursing and Rehab Center

Director Donna Guthrie said, “There have been some cases. We have stepped up all our processes. We have a hall that we put, that we cohort these people on. We’re gowning and gloving, and temperature taking three times a shift. We have ramped up our nursing staff in the home. We’re doing everything we know to do.”

Citing privacy issues, Guthrie did not say how many residents have had the virus or are currently infected.

The director added, “But, thankfully, all our patients are asymptomatic; they’re showing no symptoms. They may have a positive test, but they’re showing no symptoms.”

Morningside of Cullman

A representative of Morningside told The Tribune, “I can confirm that the community has had zero cases of COVID-19 to date.”

The spokesperson offered no details on procedures, but referred The Tribune to the website of Morningside’s parent company, Massachusetts-based Five Star Senior Living, for information on procedures. There, a media statement read:

The safety, health and well-being of our residents, clients and team members remains our highest priority, and the Five Star COVID-19 task force continues monitoring developments and further enhancing our policies and procedures in this evolving global health crisis. Consistent with recommendations of and directives by federal, state and local regulatory agencies, all of our communities and clinics have implemented and continually updated infection and disease prevention protocols along with a number of other precautionary measures specifically tailored to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

We have strict guidelines in place prohibiting all non-essential visitors from entering Five Star communities. Prior to entering, team members and essential visitors are screened for signs of a fever or other indications of COVID-19. Everyone is required to thoroughly wash or sanitize their hands and wear a facemask before entering a community. We continue to closely monitor all residents and team members for signs and symptoms and immediately follow recommended protocols to contact a physician and family, and isolate or send home someone exhibiting specific COVID-19 symptoms. Additionally, we have temporarily closed all dining areas and postponed all non-medical resident outings and other social events. We strongly encourage independent living residents to refrain from leaving the community. Any resident leaving and returning to the community will be screened and may be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

At Five Star, we continue to closely follow the recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as federal, state and local regulatory agencies, and will continue taking proactive measures to ensure the safety and health of residents, clients and team members in our communities and clinics. Our team members are experienced, well prepared and specifically trained for infection prevention and control practices. We will continue to be vigilant and proactive in navigating this challenging situation.

In a later statement, Five Star added:

To further reduce the risk of exposure and prevent the spread of the virus, we have implemented a COVID-19 testing protocol for all healthcare and assisted living residents and team members. This program is designed to quickly diagnose asymptomatic individuals, survey and assess patient recovery and inform future decisions regarding reopening.

In light of certain states taking action to reopen local businesses, it is important to reiterate that our communities continue to follow all directives and recommendations provided by the CDC and other federal, state and local authorities. The three-phase White House reopening plan, the CDC and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services support the requirement for senior living communities to maintain current protocols until, at the earliest, phase three.

Accordingly, at this time, Five Star communities are maintaining restrictions on non-essential visitors as well as protocols related to pre-entrance screening, symptom monitoring, resident outings and community activities. Similarly, we will continue to diligently enforce enhanced sanitation and infection prevention protocols, including hand washing, social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment. We are aggressively evaluating policies and restrictions and will adjust them when appropriate with our first consideration being for the well-being, health and safety of our residents and team members.

Monarch Place

Calls were directed to Executive Director Tina Miller, who was unavailable.

A candid view of the pandemic

Hanceville Nursing and Rehab’s Guthrie shared openly about the frustrations faced by her and her staff, and doubtless by others in medical care professions, and made a specific request.  

Said Guthrie, “It’s out in the community. People are not taking this seriously: you go to the grocery store and it’ll be me and two other people besides the staff of the grocery store that have masks on. People are not wearing masks, they’re not being mindful of this, they’re not keeping their social distancing. That is so extremely important.

“We have to get through this together. It’s imperative that every person take this seriously, that every person do their part. To not wear a mask today, I think, is selfish. It’s selfish and it’s not thinking about anything else but yourself.

“We’re doing everything we know to do. We’ve done it for months. We were ahead of everyone; we closed our doors before everyone.”

“We’ve been in business since 1965. We’ve done for years the best we know how to do. We’re continuing to do that. This is unprecedented; this has put all of us in new positions and having to fight something that we’ve never known before. But we’re throwing everything we have at it.”

Guthrie said she hopes nursing home staffers will not be the targets of accusations but instead that they might receive one simple thing she requested: “Prayer.”

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W.C. Mann



Maggie Darnell