COVID-19 in nursing homes ‘high on the radar’ for Contra Costa health officials |

The Pioneer

At Concord Royale, staff and visitors get their temperatures taken and sign waivers before entering the assisted living facility. Photo courtesy of Concord Royale

When the last sordid chapter of the COVID-19 saga is written, it may be of the untold impact on the vulnerable residents of nursing homes and care facilities.

As overall minimal testing data for the general county population mirrors the national trend, the spotty data to track the outbreak’s severity in senior citizen facilities throughout Contra Costa County is equally distressing.

Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the county’s deputy health officer, made it clear more testing needs to occur.

“Understanding the situation is dependent on testing, and having more testing capacity is part of that,” he noted.

Multiple facilities under investigation
A Concord Royale worker disinfects packages and leaves them outside for an hour before they are brought into the facility. Photo courtesy of Concord Royale

According to information received in an email dated April 17 from the health department, nine nursing home residents had died from COVID-19. Five were due to the outbreak investigated at Carlton Senior Living Downtown Pleasant Hill site, and four occurred at the Orinda Care Center. Between these two facilities, 64 residents tested positive, as well as 47 staff members.

Two other positive cases involving nursing home residents and 10 positive cases involving staff are linked to other undisclosed facilities in the county. Unless an outbreak should happen again, officials said they will not be disclosing other cases involving nursing homes, citing privacy concerns.

“These are just the ones that we know about. There are many more cases out there that we don’t,” Tzvieli said, citing a growing national phenomena. There have been 2,000 nursing home deaths in New York City alone.

The department is investigating multiple nursing homes in the area, including Walnut Creek, where coronavirus is suspected. Known cases of COVID-19 prompt a disease investigation and contact tracing, as well as additional testing of patients and staff to understand the extent of any outbreak. The county also assists with infection control and other safety practices at affected facilities.

Added safety measures at Stonebrook
A nurse washes his hands for 20 seconds with soap and water at Stonebrook Healthcare Center in Concord. Photo courtesy of Stonebrook Healthcare Center

Yvette Ortega, administrator of Concord’s Stonebrook Healthcare Center, says she and her peers at the close-knit area facilities have tried to get out front of the outbreak. Even before the county ordered proactive measures on April 14, managers at Stonebrook, Concord Royale and other local facilities were working to lessen virus transmission in residential care and other licensed health-care centers. This includes keeping a log of screenings of staff and visitors who enter the buildings.

“There is a small community of administrators in Concord, and we have all been on the same page since Day 1,” Ortega said.

Stonebrook’s normal occupancy is 120, with half for short-term rehabilitation after surgery. The current total is 79, of which 48 are long-term residents, including hospice care.

To date, four residents have been tested for coronavirus after showing symptoms. “Thank God, all of them came back negative,” said Ortega, who added that no staff members have contracted the virus.

A nurse washes her hands with alcohol-based sanitizer at Stonebrook Healthcare Center. There are 60 sanitizing stations in the Concord facility.

Stonebrook instituted extra safety measures on March 9. They included taking the temperatures of every employee before they start a shift and screening each for symptoms. The facility has redoubled training for practices such as hand washing, and personnel now wear protective gear like gowns, masks and face shields. And, they added a drop box for no-contact delivery of packages.

Visits are now limited to those with loved ones in hospice or facing an end of life situation. Visitors undergo a rigorous protocol, including having temperatures taken, symptom screening and supervised hand washing for 20-30 seconds. Strict social distancing guidelines are monitored, too.

“We are trying to be extra cautious,” said Ortega. “We are trying to do the best we can to protect this population.”

Kathy Vander Hagen’s husband, Steve, has been at the Concord Royale for assisted living care since last October. These days she can’t visit him because of the quarantine but they talk everyday and also use FaceTime to stay in contact.

“He’s healthy, and his caregivers are patient and understanding,’’ she said, having not heard of any problems at the Concord Royale.

Short of widespread testing, officials are also supporting nursing homes with protective equipment, screening procedures and patient isolation strategies to stem the potential tide of cases. An assessment of infection control practices of facilities across the county is slated.

“We are concerned,” Tzvieli said of what nursing homes may unwittingly be harboring. “It is high on the radar of the public health department.”

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