DHS starts reporting COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities

Posted at 7:20 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 12:29:57-04

Concerns about COVID-19 and nursing homes are mounting in southeast Wisconsin and across the country.

Long-term care facilities have increased restrictions to keep senior citizens safe from the virus.

Sadly, people are still contracting the virus and sometimes dying.

"Since long-term care facilities are primarily home to our senior members of our community. They are a particular place where risk of infection is high," said Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Milwaukee County Medical Examiner reports show five COVID related deaths tied to an address at the Allis Care Center in West Allis and 7 more at Bria of Trinity Village in Milwaukee.

TMJ4 News reached out to the West Allis Health Department about coronavirus concerns surrounding nursing homes and the Allis Care Center.

Health Officer Robert Leischow sent a statement saying, in part, they are working with an undisclosed facility where there is an outbreak. It went on to say the facility stepped up testing internally, resulting in knowing more precisely who has COVID-19, whether they have symptoms.

"We here at SEOC are working very closely with long-term care facilities when they have a resident or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19," said Deputy Secretary Willems Van Dijk.

This week DHS began posting the percent of COVID cases living in group housing, including nursing homes and assisted living. The latest data shows that number at 323 cases, which makes up 7 percent of the state's total.

"We are publishing that information because we are working to be transparent and help people across the state understand where disease affecting people," said Deputy Secretary Willems Van Dijk.

TMJ4 News reached out the both Allis Care Center and Bria of Trinity Village but did not get a response.

Here is the West Allis Health Department's complete statement:

The West Allis Health Department today is reporting 132 total positive cases, 764 negative test results, 35 resolved (formerly positive) cases, and 10 COVID-19 related deaths. Due to the relative small number of deaths, no details are provided to protect their privacy and confidentiality. Among the total cases in West Allis and West Milwaukee, we are working with an undisclosed facility where there is an outbreak.

The ability for the facility to perform testing internally has resulted in knowing more precisely who is, in fact, positive to include identifying those who are otherwise not showing symptoms – or asymptomatic - -- and could be unknowingly spreading the virus. This increased testing is a positive step in being able to identify the positives, better understand the scope of the virus' spread, and serves to help determine intervention methods. As shared in a correspondence with the community last week, those with a positive test result are isolated and those who may have been exposed have been contacted by the Health Department.

At the community-wide level, according to data that is available to the Health Department, of those who test positive in West Allis and West Milwaukee approximately 17% are currently hospitalized, 43% are >65 years old, 83% are isolated at their primary residence, and 35 who have recovered fully from their symptoms.

Just as there is community spread among the general population in West Allis, other suburban jurisdictions, in the City of Milwaukee and, in general, statewide, there is community spread in a particular facility. With this understanding, disclosing the details of the facility does not serve to protect the public and that the privacy and confidentiality of the impacted individuals at this facility need to be respected and maintained.

Exceptional Living Centers, which operates Allis Care Center, sent us this response to our inquiry:

At Allis Care Center, the health and well-being of our residents and staff are our highest priority amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

We currently have the following guidelines in place, following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

• All visitors and non-essential health care personnel are prohibited from entering our facility.
• All employees screened for symptoms of the virus daily upon entry.
• Group activities and communal dining have been suspended.
• Staff dedicated to providing care for the affected or suspected residents are donning all recommended personal protective equipment.
• Residents remain in their room except for medically necessary purposes.
• All residents are being closely monitored for signs and symptoms.

We continue to work with the local, state, and federal entities following all reporting guidelines for related changes of Covid-19 numbers of residents. To protect the privacy of our residents and their families, we will not be releasing any additional details.

Every Allis Care Center resident receives COVID-19 testing to better determine each resident's individualized plan of care. As test results come in, we are notifying the primary healthcare representative immediately. Routine healthcare updates are offered to the primary healthcare representatives of all residents. Staff members have called every primary healthcare representative to inform them that we have positive COVID-19 cases in our facility.

In accordance with CDC guidance, residents remain in their room except for medically necessary purposes. Upon additional guidance from the local health department, personal fans were removed from resident rooms to avoid the potential of spreading the virus by air. Temperatures remain comfortable within the facility.

In regards to staffing, we understand staffing in long-term care facilities is difficult at this time, however, we remain in awe of the frontline heroes working in our facility who remain devoted to our mission of care, compassion and love. We have also brought in additional staffing as needed and current ratios are consistent with the necessary work flow.

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