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COVID-19 pandemic taking toll on elder care workers

Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 9:43 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - New numbers from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control show staffers in elder care facilities are beginning to succumb to COVID-19. 

DHEC published new COVID-19 case numbers for nursing homes and other assistive living facilities on June 14.

The department reports eight staff members have died from COVID-19 from April 3 through July 13. 

In total, DHEC is reporting 1,148 COVID-19 cases among eldercare staffers.

Six of those staff members died between June 13 and July 13, including one staffer in Columbia.

That staffer worked at C. M. Tucker Jr. Nursing Care Center Roddey Pavilion

The state is reporting the nursing home has only seen three resident cases (with one death), and four staff cases (with a staff death).

 A family member of a patient at the Roddey Pavilion did express concern about the conditions within the home. 

"What if that March visit is the last one I have? You never know, with what's going on in there. It's not right. It's just not right," she said. 

WIS is withholding the identity of the family member in order to protect the patient at the home. 

She said her loved one is reporting the staffing at the home has gotten worse since the pandemic began. 

“She says that they’re really really short-handed and she’s been saying stuff about being left on the toilet for like an hour,” she said. 

The Roddey Pavilion administration did not respond to requests for comment. 

Staffing is a concern echoed by a housekeeper who works at a different nursing home in the Midlands. 

WIS is also protecting her identity, to avoid any retaliation from the home. 

“I know a lot of people were quitting because they were afraid, it’s really short-staffed, so they’re pushing everybody to do a lot of different things,” she said. 

The worker said the home was not prepared with personal protective equipment when the pandemic began, and the administration has not effectively communicated with the staff about safety measures. 

"It's really stressful, I don't want to bring it home to my family and my parents. I don't want to spread it to the residents there that don't have it, because I'm all over the building. It scares me that I could get somebody sick, because they don't have enough precautions I feel like," she said. 

The issue of nursing homes is gathering national attention. On June 13, American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) sent an open letter to the National Governor's Association asking for help in testing, PPE procurement, and outlining steps for visitation. 

You can read the letter here.

It specifically asked for help from public health agencies, such as DHEC. 

DHEC sent WIS the following measures its' been undertaking to help nursing homes:

  • Since DHEC’s universal nursing home testing of the state’s licensed nursing home facilities concluded at the beginning of June, individual facilities have continued with testing at their discretion, and the results of that testing are reported to DHEC and relayed publicly in our twice-weekly facility list updates online. We continue to review and finalize the testing results as reported to us to ensure they’re as accurate as possible at any given time.
  • The data for the statewide nursing home testing is currently being reviewed and finalized. To provide a very broad overview of the statewide testing, 188 of the state's 194 licensed facilities were part of the testing (the other facilities had just performed facility-wide testing), and 125 of those facilities had no positive test results, while 63 did. Nearly 37,000 tests were performed. 
  • A second round of universal testing isn't planned at this time, however, our epidemiologists and health regulations officials are currently finalizing updated guidance for nursing homes and long-term care facilities that will provide updated recommendations and federal guidance for protecting residents and workers.
  • DHEC regional offices continue to work with all of the state's licensed nursing homes and similar facilities to answer questions, provide specific recommendations and help ensure that proper procedures are in place that help prevent spread of the disease among residents and the workers who care for them.
  • Governor McMaster continues to direct DHEC to restrict visitation to nursing homes and assisted living facilities (with the exception of end-of-life situations, as DHEC deems necessary and appropriate), and these visitation restrictions were most recently renewed in Governor McMaster’s June 11, 2020, Executive OrderDHEC has been issuing guidance and FAQs on the visitation restrictions since they were initially imposed in March. Last week, we’ve sent two email reminders clarifying the visitation restrictions for nursing homes and assisted living facilities and also providing them numerous other ways they can help facilitate interactions between residents and their loved ones.
  • We’re also encouraging South Carolina nursing homes and long-term care facilities to pursue a federal grant opportunity that can provide funding for purchasing  tablets, tripods and accessories that help to virtually connect residents with their friends and family so they can stay engaged with their loved ones and to help ease feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression

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