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Nursing Home battles COVID outbreak

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
November 26, 2020
W. STEWARTSTOWN — A recent COVID-19 outbreak at the Cos County Nursing Home in W. Stewartstown has prompted Nursing Home Administrator, Laura Mills to update the community every few days. Last week, the National Guard arrived to test all residents and employees that had not already tested positive for COVID-19.

On Nov. 9, Mills wrote, "I have some bad news to share tonight. Today we had our first death of a COVID positive resident. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family," She added that at that time, 15 employees and five residents had tested positive, but this was just the beginning. As a result, the state was seeking to send help, as infected staff cannot continue to work.

At that time, fortunately two local nurses offered to fill in.

To that end, Mills said, "This was an amazing offer and will give our hard hit staff a little relief. Another local person called to offer to volunteer her time to help us wherever we might need her. This is what our community is made of and we are so thankful for it. We are also getting close to our employees that were hit first being able to return if they are feeling up to it."

Monday's results, Nov. 9, showed that 21 residents were positive, bringing the total to 25.

Mills said, "We also had another death late last night. Our condolences to his family. With the increase in numbers, we are expanding our COVID Isolation Unit further into 3 South. We also have a small COVID Isolation Unit on First Floor until we can move all of our positive resident to third Floor."

The nursing home does have a stock supply of PPE but says they are going to need more, specifically more N95 masks. The National Guard did make a delivery as a result of the request. Leftover PPE from election day also poured in from surrounding towns.

Updated testing showed that an additional 19 employees have tested positive, making the total 33 for positive employees.

"Needless to say, there has not been much opportunity for activities, residents are encouraged to stay in their rooms. There have been no visits aside from video visits, telephone calls, or End-of-Life visits for our three residents who have passed this week," explained Mills.

"This virus is so much more contagious and frightening than we knew. Our home is close knit and the residents and staff are so used to spending time together that the separation was very difficult. Seeing how this virus has spread has made that even more apparent," said Mills.

She added, "How do you not spend time with a resident, not give hugs where they are needed, or keep the residents apart from their friends? There was a comment on our Facebook page that pretty much summed it up, if we segregate the residents from family and friends we might stop the virus but then we lose them to loneliness. Now we are facing the reality of losing them to this virus. There is no easy answer."

As cases increased, so did the offer of help from local nurses. Positive residents have been separated from all exposed but negative residents.

"Dr. Fothergill, our Medical Director, spent a lot of time with residents and staff today seeing residents and helping set up our expanded COVID Unit. His presence is a comfort and gives us more confidence in our ability to battle this virus," said Mills.

Mills said that gifts have been pouring in from surrounding communities, including coffee, pizza, donuts and candy. Don Noyes Chevrolet, Beecher Falls Volunteer Fire Department, and the Laurent Rancourt family have all contributed.

"Don Noyes Chevrolet has been providing coffee and donuts to us all throughout the weekend and into this week. A delivery of sandwiches arrived from UCVH for lunch. Don Noyes will be providing chicken pies," said Mills.

On Nov. 17, two State Surveyors for an 'Infection Control Survey' toured the site. This visit did not sit well with Mills.

"I know this is required, but it really felt like getting kicked while we were down. There were many questions about our BD Veritor rapid test machine. We had only just started using it and only had a draft policy in place before COVID hit us," said Mills.

Mills highlighted some good news, in that Governor Sununu has agreed to reinstate the weekly Stipends for essential workers in long term care.

She said, "This team's effort is beyond words. They deserve this bonus. Not everyone has the courage and determination to show up every day and do what they do. They come in early, stay late, and cover for each other. This is how I know we have more than a team here, we have a family."

On Nov. 18, Mills reported that there are 11 new positive residents and 17 new positive employees.

"This was a devastating blow. Thank fully, most are still feeling well. On one resident whose results were still pending we had concerns, so we used our BD Veritor rapid test machine today and the result was positive. That brings us to twelve new positive residents. We currently have 35 active positive residents and three 'recovered.' It was hard to find a 'win' for today, but on a more encouraging note, we have several residents who will be considered "recovered" after this weekend and several more employees returning to work," explained Mills.

Lastly, she said, "This is not really something you can prepare for completely in a longterm care facility. We are accustomed to having rooms on precautions at times, but not entire units or floors. This is extremely difficult on the staff. They are in full PPE for almost their entire shifts whether four-, eight-, or 12-hour shifts."

She went on to say, "Add to that, the fear of contracting the virus and bringing it home to family and you have a frightened, stressed group of people."

Mills said the amazing thing, is employees keep showing up.

She said, "They are here for each other. Some have chosen not to be here, and that was expected. Those who are sick are just counting the days until they can return and help. It has been nothing short of amazing."

The staffing shortage was real before the pandemic according to Mills, and now, it has just gone beyond their ability to piece it together.

"The community has stepped up and we have had some local nursing professionals pick up shifts, but when you are looking at almost 30 employees out, that is a lot of shifts to fill. We have reached out to the state and they are working on it, but they have no resources to draw from in our area. They are now reaching out to FEMA, but it is my understanding that this is no simple task," she added.

Ending on a positive note, she said, "The support showed by the community for this home and these people has been nothing short of extraordinary. We are being fed very well in addition to the supportive comments, thoughts and prayers. Where some homes in other parts of the country have been shamed and blamed for the outbreak, I am so moved that our community has rallied behind us in this difficult time. There is no way I can ever thank them enough for that support."

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