Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Nursing homes work to provide services during pandemic


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Ironwood — As cases linked to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continue to rise around the region, the area’s nursing homes are working to protect their staff and residents.

The efforts have led many facilities to find creative ways to allow residents to visit with their families, utilizing technology for remote visits or having the families meet outside or through a window to avoid the direct contact that could spread the virus.

“(There’s) a lot of stress, a lot of struggles. But, you know, we’re doing our best to keep things going as best we can and still trying to get those virtual visits and those window visits so people can still see their families. We know that’s really important, too,” said Lauren Snyder, director of nursing for Villa Maria Health and Rehabilitation Center.

She said people were thankful for the brief period where a drop in cases meant in-person visitations could take place, and they seem to recognize the reason those visits are no longer possible as the case count rises again.

Gogebic Medical Care Facility has also been using technology and other methods of allowing residents to visit their families without direct contact, according to administrator Georgia Weber, with in-house visitations only being allowed in specific compassionate care cases. However, the facility’s three-story building means window visits have to stop when there is a positive test in order to keep residents in their units and limit the flow of people through the building as much as possible.

The pandemic has also led to facilities adopting new testing practices for staff and residents as well as other procedures designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus such as wearing personal protective equipment.

Snyder said staff at Villa Maria are screened for symptoms and have their temperatures taken daily.

“If they have any symptoms, then they can’t be at work until their symptoms resolve and they are ruled COVID-negative,” Snyder said.

Staff are also tested at least twice each week.

“That’s another way we identify and isolate anything and make sure nobody here is asymptomatic while they’re working,” she said.

Gogebic Medical Care staff are also tested weekly and any positive tests result in the residents getting tested.

“As soon as we get 14 days that we have not had any positive staff or residents, we are able to go (back) down to just weekly testing on our employees,” Weber said.

The facility also had the Air National Guard come in to help with a staff testing event in May.

Weber said they are also utilizing telehealth resources that allow residents to meet with their doctors and other health care professionals remotely as a way to reduce the need for in-person visits.

“The less people coming into our facility the better,” Weber said.

The facilities have also been following state and federal guidelines to stop the spread of the virus.

“We are in regular contact with local and state health officials to ensure we are taking all the appropriate steps and recommendations as provided by the CDC and CMS,” a spokesman for Atrium Centers Inc., which operates Westgate Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, said in a statement. “We have been monitoring our residents and staff consistently. We have increased the housekeeping and sanitation in all high touch areas and have implemented a state of the art UV Ray device to assist in eradicating traces of the virus.”

Despite the efforts, a number of local facilities have reported staff or residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Monday, two skilled nursing facilities in Gogebic County and one in Ontonagon County are listed on the state of Michigan’s coronavirus website. According to the data, Gogebic Medical Care Facility has had six staff cases and zero resident cases during the pandemic.

Westgate Nursing and Rehab Center has had 54 total resident cases, according to the state website. This includes four deaths. The facility has also reported 26 positive staff members.

In Ontonagon County, Aspirus Ontonagon Hospital’s long-term care facility lists a total of nine staff cases.

Wisconsin’s COVID-19 website lists active public health investigations at Skyview Nursing Center and Villa Maria Health and Rehabilitation Center.

Although Villa Maria is listed as an active investigation, Snyder told the Daily Globe last week that no residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

All the staff the Daily Globe spoke to for the story credited not only the employees, but also the residents and their families for the hard work in helping each other get through the pandemic.

“Our employees continue to prove how dedicated, hard-working, and compassionate they are while fighting this pandemic on the front lines. Our team members are working extensive hours and learning new procedures daily in order to keep our residents and each other safe,” the Atrium Centers spokesman said. “Westgate will continue to put forth all available resources to continue to fight this terrible pandemic. We would like to express a sincere thank you to our community and our families for having patience and trust while we navigate these trying times.”

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