The long-term care facility at South Peninsula Hospital in Homer has asked visitors to postpone visits after a resident and multiple staff members tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 7, according to a press release from SPH.
Rachael Kincaid, the long-term care director of the skilled nursing facility at SPH, said in the press release that the resident who tested positive last Friday is the first resident to test positive since the pandemic began. After the single resident tested positive, the other 19 residents were tested and all received negative results.
The COVID-19-positive resident had taken an off-campus visit, and following protocols, got tested on their return. The resident was immediately isolated in a private room, according to the press release.
All of the residents at the facility are vaccinated, the release stated. In a follow-up email on Tuesday, SPH Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro said not all the residents have received booster shots. The hospital requires COVID-19 vaccination prior to admission of any long-term care residents. Ferraro said on Monday that the resident who tested positive had shown no symptoms.
“Our protocols and mitigation measures have been working quite effectively,” Kincaid said. “This facility is our residents’ home, and we’re a tight-knit group. Most of our elders are unable to mask. When you consider the intimate care we provide day after day, it’s pretty remarkable we’ve made it this long without a resident case.”
According to the release, after the resident tested positive, everyone else in the facility got tested, with six staff members testing positive. The positive results among the staff occurred in both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. Six other LTC employees who were close contacts also went into quarantine.
Staff who tested negative are working overtime as needed, the release stated. An additional LTC employee was in quarantine before last Friday; that incident was not related to Friday’s event, Ferraro wrote in an email. That means 13 LTC employees who either tested positive or were close contacts are not working. As of Monday, 10 SPH employees total had tested positive, including the six LTC employees who tested on Friday. Another 11 are out on quarantine, including the LTC employees.
The hospital’s long-term care facility is licensed for 28 residents, but during the pandemic has had between 18 and 20 residents, Ferraro said. In the press release, Kincaid said having so many employees out will be challenging for remaining staff, “but not impossible.” All employees eligible to work are working overtime, with a team-nursing model being used to care for residents. Staff from other departments will be brought in if needed.
“We’ve been preparing for this for a long time. We are ready,” Kincaid said in the press release.
The hospital follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for health care workers regarding how long positive and exposed staff have to quarantine, Ferraro said.
The isolating and quarantined employees should be back in five to 10 days, depending on their individual circumstances, Ferraro wrote in an email on Tuesday.
“We hope to see some returning by the end of this week,” she wrote. “Until staffing levels resume to normal, we will use the team model of care, as outlined in our staffing contingency plan. Though unique for our home, this model has been successfully utilized in healthcare during the pandemic.”
Ferraro said long-term care does not anticipate a change to the level of care its residents receive, and they do not anticipate needing call in staffing from elsewhere in the organization.
With some employees returning after five days of quarantining, that can relieve stress on other staff, Ferraro said.
“That makes a huge difference with a significant number like this,” she said. “Folks are willing to pitch in and work extra shifts when they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kincaid said in the release that safety measures were changed last year to allow visitors and outdoor outings for the residents.
“While we are committed to keeping our residents safe from physical risk, social, emotional and mental wellbeing are an important part of their overall health,” she said. “This pandemic does not appear to be going anywhere, and we must adjust along with it.”
The south peninsula’s seven-day average was 657 new COVID cases per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, the highest for the peninsula, according to data from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District website.
For the period of Jan. 7-9, South Peninsula Hospital tested 400 people, with 45 testing positive, an 11% rate, Ferraro said.
Because many omicron cases have reportedly been less symptomatic and because of the increasing availability of at-home COVID test kits, state officials with the Department of Health and Social Services are encouraging people to use hospitalizations and death metrics to determine the severity of the variant.
Hospitalizations in Alaska are currently trending downward, although the metric tends to be a lagging indicator.
The long-term skilled nursing facility at SPH asked people not to visit until this Friday. Additionally, all residents and staff will be tested daily despite vaccination status.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org and Homer News reporter and editor Michael Armstrong at email@example.com.