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Facilities tackle virus testing dilemma

Locations: News Published

Like other county nursing homes and long term residential facilities, Heritage Park struggled to test all its residents — until recently.

Brian Zaragoza, executive director at Heritage, confirmed the Colorado National Guard arrived at the Carbondale location last week and tested both symptomatic and asymptomatic consenting staff and residents.

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The director of public relations at Life Care Centers of America, which runs Heritage, Leigh Atherton reported the results.
She stated, “Of the 115 tests, we’re thankful to share that 114 were negative. The one positive was an associate who will only return to work once strict guidelines from the CDC are met.”
Zaragoza added, “We’re thankful to have the support of the National Guard as well as the local and state health departments.”

Screening protocols continue at Heritage, with specific COVID19 related questions and temperatures actively screened at the beginning of staff shifts daily. The following signs and symptoms are included in the employee monitoring: fever, respiratory infection to include cough, sore throat and shortness of breath. Other symptoms, such as malaise, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, headache and rhinorrhea (runny nose).

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Any staff experiencing symptoms are required to put on a face mask, are excluded from work, asked to leave the facility and follow-up with their private medical provider. 

Residents are monitored at least three times a day by nurses. This assessment includes temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, pulse oximetry and overall status. In addition, certified nursing assistants (CNA) report any changes to a resident’s status to the charge nurse for further evaluation.
Heritage has a designated unit for all newly admitted residents who are treated as if positive for COVID-19. Residents remain on this unit for a minimum of 14 days and are able to move off only if asymptomatic after 14 days. Residents with symptoms are similarly isolated. 

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But a word of caution. Colorado Public Radio (CPR) reported in mid-May “Colorado has failed to meet its own goals for testing residents for COVID19 even though Governor Jared Polis attests the state has sufficient supplies and testing centers.”

The story continued, “As of May 15, the state has committed to providing a test for anyone who is symptomatic. While some are anxious to get tested to find out if they have the virus, others may feel that visiting a testing site isn’t a priority if they don’t feel sick.”

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A May 30 press release from the National Guard Bureau of Public Affairs stated, “By order of Gov. Jared Polis, Soldiers and Airmen from the Colorado National Guard Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield explosive Enhanced Response Force Package based at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, Colorado, are continuing to support testing of Coloradans who have symptoms of COVID-19 while training testing teams throughout the state.”

The other Carbondale facility completing the state-required isolation plan was Columbine House, a group home run by Mountain Valley Developmental Services which “provides adults (18+) with intellectual and developmental disabilities with the supports necessary to lead full and enriched lives.”  

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Mountain Valley owns and operates a total of nine Garfield County group homes including: Bookcliff House in Parachute; Mesa View and Vista House in Rifle; Sopris House, Grand Avenue House, Oakhurst House, Pitkin House and Yampah House in Glenwood Springs. 

Sara Sims, MDVS executive director, noted none of these licensed facilities have had positive virus cases.

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Columbine House and the other group homes all follow strict guidelines as directed by the Centers for Disease Control and are similar to that of Heritage. 

However, Sims explained, “As we deal with some people with intellectual disabilities, it can be harder for them to understand what is going on. It’s hard.”

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She continued, “Our staff is patient and caring and work hard to help residents cope with the changes in their environment.”

Staff may take residents outside for walks and develop new and innovative activities indoors.
Sims explained, “Because the residents in each home — ranging from four to eight — have been quarantining together since the stay at home, they can be within living proximity of one another… We are encouraging them to wear masks, not touch each other, cover their coughs/mouths, wash hands frequently, throw away tissues, keep their distance when they can, help clean their areas and surfaces and to limit the sharing of items.”

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When asked about National Guard assistance with testing, Sims replied “It is not possible to get help locally so residents would have to travel.”

Mesa Vista, located in Battlement Mesa, is one of 32 Colorado facilities operated by Vivage Senior Living based in Lakewood CO. Administrator Kath Budau reported no COVID19 cases have been identified here. 

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She said, “We don’t allow visitors now and are now testing staff or patients with symptoms.”

With 32 residents, Budau explained, “We can handle testing needs on site.”

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“Garfield County Public Health hosted a zoom meeting for residents which explained in detail what COVID19 is about and handled questions,” Budau said, adding that the online event was very successful.”

Garfield County Public Health replied online to a question about why more people aren’t being tested, the department replied, “We do not have the testing capacity to test everyone. We want to be able to devote all available resources to be able to take care of our most critically ill.” And lastly, “We need to protect our health care providers by not exposing them to potential illness.”

With the difficulty in obtaining tests the department recommended, “As a community, the most important thing we can do right now is to practice social distancing.”

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