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Increased Measures: COVID-19 illness, deaths reach county long-term care facilities

November 25, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

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State Department of Health data show as of Nov. 17 that 54 of 55 residents of Quality Life Services — Sarver have tested positive for COVID-19. Nine deaths have been reported.

In the past two weeks, nine residents at Quality Life Services — Sarver have died due to COVID-19.

Although the Winfield Township long-term care facility remained largely spared from the virus during the spring and summer, data from the state Department of Health shows nearly every resident — 54 of 55 residents as of Nov. 17 — has tested positive for the virus.

Chief operating officer David McGuire said nine residents at the facility died due to the virus, a marked increase from Nov. 10, when the Department of Health reported no deaths at the facility.

At present, two residents and three staff members still have the illness, McGuire said, noting the facility considers somebody to be recovered when they have no symptoms — including not having a fever without having taken medication within 24 hours — 10 or more days after being diagnosed.

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The company has a slightly different number of residents than the department's data, indicating 48 residents — three fewer than the department's figure after factoring in resident deaths — on its COVID-19 dashboard.

At Quality Life Services — Chicora, in Donegal Township, 15 of 86 residents currently have COVID-19, as do three staff members. McGuire said residents there have died due to the virus, but did not state an exact figure. The Department of Health has not reported data for that facility.

He added the Butler-based group of long-term care facilities, which operates 10 such locations in the state, has taken a number of precautions to slow the spread of the disease within its system.

“We're following all the guidelines given to us by (the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services) and the Department of Health,” he said. “We're screening our employees on a daily basis, but the issue there is, when you're asymptomatic, it's a challenge to catch.”

Within the facilities, once somebody is diagnosed, three color-coded “zones” are established. In both the yellow and red zones, full personal protective equipment is worn, and precautions are still taken in green zones.

“I just opened up some green units in Sarver,” McGuire said. “Those are the people who have been positive, there's no more symptoms, and they're back on in a green unit.”

Quality Life Services has also curtailed in-person visits with residents in Winfield, instead offering video visits. A Nov. 13 letter to residents and family members noted the facility only had capacity to perform one 30-minute video visit each week for each resident.

“We are trying to increase that. Now that we have some green zones and the red zone has significantly decreased, we will be doing virtual visits Thanksgiving Day and going forward,” he said. “We're scheduling the virtual visits, as many as we possibly can.”

To supplant staff members unable to perform their duties, Quality Life Services called upon the National Guard for help.

“When we had Sarver's outbreak, for example, through our partnership with the (regional Health Care Consortium), we met with the medical director for the National Guard in this area,” McGuire said. “He came through, evaluated what's going on and because we had a good number of employees who tested positive right in the beginning, they sent some staff.”

From Nov. 10 through Nov. 17, National Guard medics and general purpose workers provided assistance to the facility.

“The medics can't be (certified nursing assistants), but they can do a lot of things,” McGuire said. “An extra pair of hands is very helpful during those times.”

Other facilities

With cases resurging nationwide, Butler County long-term care facilities have also seen higher numbers of cases.

At 22 facilities regulated by the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services, 341 residents and 63 employees have been diagnosed with the illness. Of those, 25 have died.

The Butler VA Health Care System, which is not regulated by either state agency, has reported 147 total cases among veterans and employees, with 36 active cases among veterans and two among employees, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Six people have died of COVID-19 at the Butler VA, although the department did not indicate how many were Abie Abraham VA Clinic residents.

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Alex J. Weidenhof

Alex J. Weidenhof