According to data released this week by the state Department of Health and Cumberland County Coroner Charley Hall, the Shippensburg Health Care Center has reported 23 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic started in March.

The center is also reporting 88 positive patient cases and 18 positive employee cases of the coronavirus.

The virus has spread rapidly throughout nursing homes in the state, which has brought the Department of Health under fire recently.

Shippensburg Health Care Center Administrator Larry Cottle said the center has gone above and beyond to attempt to prevent the virus from spreading amongst its patients, and has been in constant contact with family members regarding symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

“Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed at Shippensburg Health Care Center, we have worked tirelessly to take every precaution and preventive measure possible to ensure the health and safety of our residents and staff. Our staff members have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect their residents in their care. It is important to note that throughout our

ongoing response efforts, we have remained in close communication with the families and loved ones of our residents to share updates and provide additional information,” Cottle wrote in an email to The News-Chronicle. “Please know that we have done everything humanly possible to keep this virus out of our center. We are going above and beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pa Department of Health (DoH) Guidelines. We were very proactive in restricting visitation and taking other measures prior to the counsel instituted by the CDC and DoH. We believe that the worst is now behind us. We now have no residents with symptoms. We look forward to once again returning to as normal operations as possible considering the circumstances. Our goal at Shippensburg Health Care Center has been and will continue to be in serving the frail elderly population of Shippensburg and its surrounding communities, which we are optimistic will be in the near future.”

Cottle noted the center’s plans have been reviewed by the DoH on a regular basis, and the staff has been working under plans and protocols reviewed by the state epidemiologist. He also noted full PPE “has been available and used rigorously since the beginning of the crisis, and in advance of state and federal guidelines.”

“We have never run out of gear due to the hard work of the facility management and ownership and the assistance of the state.”

Cottle noted the building has been surveyed in the past 10 days, and they have not been informed of any deficiencies in the report.

Every patient at the center has been tested for the virus, and there are currently no symptomatic patients, according to Cottle. However, he said, “We do have a small number of patients that have tested positive and are asymptomatic and have not yet passed 14 days without symptoms.” He is not sure how the virus entered the building, but assured they have stringently followed the health department guidelines regarding when to test patients. He added any staff members that tested positive for the virus took sick leave, and most are back to work. He also said they have been able to maintain proper staffing through the pandemic. 

“The state has been in the building, and has been very helpful regarding all aspects of this outbreak,” he noted. This is a terrible virus, and we take very sick and chronically ill patients. The facility has been proactive from Day 1. It is unfortunate that we have had deaths. Throughout the state and country that has happened, and we suspect it will happen in many more buildings. We are enormously proud of our staff heroes that have come to work every day, risked their health, and provided high quality care and compassion.”

Family concern

Cottle noted patients are being fully isolated as per plans discussed and reviewed with the state. However, one family member told The News-Chronicle his brother-in-law wasn’t isolated after exhibiting a symptom of the virus.

Albert Holton of Shippensburg said his brother-in-law passed away on May 3, two days after his nephews were told to see their father because he was not doing well and one day after his test for the coronavirus came back positive. Holton said he was told his brother-in-law was still kept in the room with his roommate, even though he was showing a symptom of the virus.

“I’m not trying to stir the pot, I just don’t think they were transparent,” Holton said. “I was told that he was only exhibiting a fever at night and wasn’t showing any other symptoms. I was also told he had to have two symptoms in order to be tested for the virus. Here’s what’s wrong with that theory. While you’re waiting around for him to have two symptoms, he’s dying of one. I just don’t think you’re going to find out something is wrong with him two days before he passes away. They see him every day. I think somewhere along the line, someone dropped the ball there.”

Holton said the nurses at the center were all very nice, and feels they provided great care for his brother-in-law. He just feels that action could have been taken a lot sooner in his brother-in-law’s case.

“I do give them credit for calling my nephews so they could go see their father,” he added. “I got to say goodbye over the phone. I knew the man for 40 years. He was more like a brother to me, and I got 15 minutes to say goodbye to him. He was a Veteran, and he was the kindest, most gentle man I knew. I will always remember him laughing and smiling when I was cutting his hair about a month ago. I can’t spare my brother-in-law, but I felt the need to speak out on his behalf and maybe help someone else out.”

 

DoH data

The data released Tuesday shows the number of cases in nursing homes across the state. The numbers can be viewed here: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxwHNVxCzcxjcLXmTgwpvHHMglKr?projector=1&messagePartId=0.2.

The Gardens at West Shore in Carlisle has also seen a large number of cases, with 74 positive patient cases, 21 positive employee cases and 10 deaths.

The Gardens at Camp Hill is reporting 51 positive patient cases, 15 positive employee cases and seven reported deaths.

In Franklin County, ManorCare in Chambersburg is reporting 57 positive patient cases, 10 positive employee cases and less than four deaths. At the Shook Home in Chambersburg, there are 42 positive patient cases, less than four positive employee cases and six reported deaths.

Nate Wardle, spokesman with the Department of Health, issued the following responses to questions pertaining the DoH’s efforts to keep the virus from spreading in nursing homes across the state:

“The department is taking a number of steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. The Wolf Administration has taken a three-pillar approach to protecting the vulnerable residents living in nursing homes and other long-term living settings: Ensuring resident safety through testing, education and resources; Preventing and mitigating outbreaks; and Working in partnership with state agencies, local health departments and long-term care facility operators. Testing is an essential component to making sure vulnerable residents in these long-term care facilities are safe. Through the state’s testing strategy, we are working to ensure that testing is accessible for all Pennsylvanians with COVID-19 symptoms, available through increased efforts to build supply and capacity, and adaptable based on the ever changing landscape of the virus and data available. Guidance released last week to hospitals and skilled nursing homes require a resident who is being discharged from a hospital to a nursing home, personal care home, or assisted living facility be tested for COVID-19, if they were not hospitalized due to the virus. This will provide valuable information to the long-term care facility on any needs to cohort the patient, monitor their condition and take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, if applicable. In addition, a Health Alert was previously issued to provide direction to all skilled nursing facilities on a universal testing strategy, outlining when testing should be used, and what steps to take after a positive test result. Test results can be used to cohort those exposed, determine the burden of COVID-19 across units or facilities to allocate resources, identify health care workers who are infected, and address those who are no longer ill. The department is committed to testing all patients and staff in Pennsylvania’s long-term care facilities. A pilot study of two facilities is currently underway to test all residents and staff at the facility. The information from these tests will be used for cohorting. The department, working with commercial laboratories, has been coordinating with facilities that are implementing universal testing. We are receiving test swabs from the federal government to ensure our facilities have an adequate supply. In addition, the Pennsylvania National Guard is mobilizing to provide a mobile testing option for facilities that may not be able to test on their own. Education to facilities has been provided through bulletin boards, nursing home associations, and our normal channels of communication such as Health Alert Network messages. That education has included guidance for clinicians at long-term care facilities on the cohorting of residents with COVID-19 in dedicated units within nursing homes, effective transmission prevention strategy, universal screening and masking of all healthcare workers, and how to provide access to the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

“One of the most needed resources during COVID-19 has been personal protective equipment (PPE). The state has delivered more than 1,700 shipments of PPE to nursing homes, personal care homes and other long-term care facilities, both as routine deliveries and also to meet critical needs. The department has held webinars and classes on PPE for long-term care employees and leadership on how to use it effectively and has trained and fit-tested more than 150 individuals,” Wardle continued. “The department, along with additional state agencies, has provided these facilities with the resources and expertise to provide consultation in order to prevent or control existing outbreaks. Resources and expertise include: Staff from the quality assurance team, who conduct onsite visits to facilities and investigate complaints and concerns related to the safety of residents; The healthcare acquired infection (HAI) team has provided direct consultation with facilities experiencing outbreaks. To date, this team has worked with more than 250 facilities across the state; Create rapid response strike teams using the state’s staffing contract with nurses to staff the facilities in need; ECRI, the infection control contractor working with the state, has provided additional technical assistance and support to 100 facilities; The Patient Safety Authority, an independent state agency, has used their knowledge to assist 90 facilities as well; The state’s healthcare coalitions, which exist in each region of the state, and regional coalition emergency managers, have worked to directly assess facilities and deliver PPE; Medical reserve corps and the Department of Human Services have also provided virtual mental health services to facilities; and CDC teams are providing on-site assistance for long-term care facilities using their infection prevention and control expertise. When necessary, the department aids in coordinating staffing of facilities with immediate needs. The Eastern State Medical Assistance Team and the Pennsylvania National Guard have both been deployed to support 13 facilities with immediate staffing needs, preventing these facilities from being evacuated.”

Wardle added, “It is important to note that at this time, there is no treatment for COVID-19 that has been widely approved. There are some treatments under study, such as Remdesivir, and others that have been researched and their effectiveness determined to not be what is necessary to use for treatment (hydroxychloroquine). Healthcare facilities have been informed of the latest information regarding when health care personnel with COVID-19 can return to work. Facilities disregarding this information could be investigated and cited, yes. The department is recommending cohorting of individuals who test positive and those who have been exposed, and those who have not been exposed. Those who have been exposed will likely be cohorting with those who have tested positive, due to already being exposed. These individuals may be waiting for test results, or be asymptomatic. Widespread testing was not available at the beginning of COVID-19 because of the lack of supplies. There were not enough test swabs to test residents and staff, and there were not enough test kits and laboratories to conduct the testing. These problems have been rectified over the last few weeks and we now have the ability to provide widespread testing, and to assist facilities that need resources. We are working with facilities to encourage testing and to work with them on any needs they may have in regard to universal testing.”

For more information on the coronavirus in Pennsylvania, visit: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx.

To report concerns about a long-term care facility, you can contact the state ombudsman’s office at: (717) 783-8975.

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