Two Janesville nursing homes say they are taking extra steps to keep residents and employees healthy and family members informed during the pandemic.
Rock Haven, which is run by Rock County, and Cedar Crest retirement community both have changed how they care for residents.
Nursing homes are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks because residents tend to be older and in fragile health. Another nursing and assisted living facility in Janesville, Oak Park Place, announced Monday that three residents and one staff member had tested positive for the virus.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said any positive cases at Rock Haven would be reported to the state Department of Health Services.
He said other residents and families likely would not be told about a single case of COVID-19 at Rock Haven. If more than one resident contracted the virus, families of residents likely would be notified, he said.
Rock Haven employees are equipped with masks, gowns, gloves and face shields donated by plastic manufacturing company Prent Corp. They undergo screening before work each day by having their temperatures taken and answering a checklist of questions about how they’re feeling, Smith said.
“Staff are really cognizant of their own health because they don’t want to bring anything in to the people they care for and about every day,” Smith said. “I feel really comfortable with that.”
All residents are screened twice a day for symptoms.
Smith said the facility’s design helps prevent the spread of disease. Each room houses only one resident and has a sink for washing hands.
In February, employees trained for the possibility of mass illness, Smith said. In addition, two rounds of influenza A required that different wings be quarantined, which turned out to be good practice for a COVID-19 outbreak.
“Families often communicate with loved ones on their own about what’s going on,” he said. “There’s not a calling tree every day, but there are a lot of calls coming in as people ask what’s going on, and we’re trying to put people at ease that things are going well so far.
“Knock on wood, Rock Haven is probably the healthiest it’s been in a couple months now that we are clear of influenza A and with no cases of COVID-19 yet.”
Cedar Crest also is working to protect its nursing home residents, said Ben Reese, marketing director.
“We do a screening for everybody who enters the building,” he said. “Not just workers, but vendors, deliveries, everybody. It sometimes freaks some of the delivery drivers out when we ask to take their temperature and ask questions, but we have to do everything we can to keep our population safe.”
All employees wear protective equipment when caring for residents, he said.
Visitors at both facilities have been limited, and families are encouraged to communicate with residents by letter, FaceTime and Skype.
Cedar Crest also has received letters from people who don’t have family members there, which has cheered up some of the residents, Reese said.
Some families have asked about the possibility of taking residents home with them during the pandemic. Both Cedar Crest and Rock Haven discourage that.
“We’ve had a couple family members raise similar concerns, but the fact of the matter is, because of the precautions we’re taking, this is actually the safest place for our residents to be,” Reese said.
“People considering taking them home is admirable, but if these residents are living here for care, we have the resources and ability to care for them in a specialized way that may not be possible in an at-home setting.”
Smith agreed, although he said some residents receiving short-term rehab through Medicaid will be going home soon.
“The safest place for them to be is probably a nursing home, where they receive care every day and can be effectively quarantined in the room,” he said. “If your loved one is at Rock Haven and there’s multiple cases, then maybe that’s a different question. But if someone wants to remove their family member from Rock Haven, they can. It’s not like everyone is locked in.”
Reese hopes people will continue to support nursing home staff.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep our communities safe. We encourage people to be thinking about us, and when you see someone working in health care, give them some words of encouragement.”