Hospital long-term care resident, six staff members test positive for COVID-19; all other residents have tested negative.

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The South Peninsula Hospital long-term care facility in Homer asked visitors to postpone visits after a resident and several staff members tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 7, according to a statement from SPH press.

Rachael Kincaid, director of long-term care at SPH’s Skilled Nursing Facility, said in the press release that the resident who tested positive last Friday is the first resident to test positive since the start of the pandemic. After the only resident tested positive, the other 19 residents were tested and all received negative results.

The COVID-19 positive resident had made an off-campus visit and, in accordance with protocols, was tested upon his return. The resident was immediately isolated in a private room, the statement said.

All residents of the facility are vaccinated, the statement said. In a follow-up email on Tuesday, SPH public information officer Derotha Ferraro said not all residents had received a reminder. The hospital requires vaccination against COVID-19 before the admission of any long-term care resident. Ferraro said Monday that the resident who tested positive showed no symptoms.

“Our protocols and mitigations worked quite effectively,” Kincaid said. “This facility is the home of our residents, and we are a tight-knit group. Most of our elders are unable to mask themselves. When you consider the intimate care we provide day in and day out, it’s quite remarkable that we’ve survived this long without a resident case.

According to the statement, after the resident tested positive, all other members of the facility were tested, with six staff members testing positive. Positive results among staff occurred in both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. Six other LTC employees who were close contacts have also been quarantined.

Staff who test negative are working overtime as needed, the statement said. An additional LTC employee was in quarantine prior to last Friday; this incident was unrelated to Friday’s event, Ferraro wrote in an email. This means that 13 SLD employees who tested positive or were close contacts are not working. As of Monday, a total of 10 SPH employees had tested positive, including the six LTC employees who were tested on Friday. Another 11 are in quarantine, including LTC employees.

The hospital’s long-term care facility is licensed for 28 residents, but during the pandemic it has housed between 18 and 20 residents, Ferraro said. In the press release, Kincaid said having so many absentee staff would be difficult for the remaining staff, “but not impossible”. All eligible employees at work work overtime, with a nursing team model used to care for residents. Staff from other departments will be brought in as needed.

“We have been preparing for this for a long time. We are ready,” Kincaid said in the press release.

The hospital follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for healthcare workers regarding the duration of quarantine for positive and exposed personnel, Ferraro said.

Isolated and quarantined employees should be back in five to 10 days, depending on their individual circumstances, Ferraro wrote in an email Tuesday.

“We hope to see some back by the end of this week,” she wrote. “Until staffing levels return to normal, we will use the team care model as outlined in our staffing contingency plan. Although unique to our home, this model has been used successfully in healthcare during the pandemic.

Ferraro said long-term care doesn’t anticipate a change in the level of care its residents receive, and it doesn’t anticipate needing to bring in staff elsewhere in the organization.

Returning some employees after five days of quarantine can relieve stress on other staff, Ferraro said.

“It makes a huge difference with a large number like this,” she said. “People are ready to pitch in and work extra shifts when they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Kincaid said in the statement that security measures were changed last year to allow visitors and outdoor outings for residents.

“While we are committed to protecting our residents from physical risk, social, emotional and mental well-being is an important part of their overall health,” she said. “This pandemic doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and we have to adapt with it.”

The Southern Peninsula’s seven-day average was 657 new COVID cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, the highest on the peninsula, according to data from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District website.

For the period Jan. 7-9, South Peninsula Hospital tested 400 people, with 45 testing positive, a rate of 11%, Ferraro said.

Given that many omicron cases would have been less symptomatic and due to the increasing availability of home COVID test kits, state officials from the Department of Health and Human Services are encouraging people to use hospitalizations and death metrics to determine the severity of the variant.

Hospitalizations in Alaska are currently trending downward, though the metric tends to be a lagging indicator.

The SPH Long Term Skilled Nursing Facility has asked people not to visit until this Friday. In addition, all residents and staff will be tested daily despite their vaccination status.

Contact journalist Camille Botello at [email protected] and Homer News reporter and editor Michael Armstrong at [email protected]

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