Because the population of nursing homes is especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted to be able to track the impact of the virus on these centers.
According to the CDC's National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) data, as of the week ending on August 2, there have been 1,180 cumulative cases of coronavirus and 70 deaths in north Alabama. Of those, 670 of the cases were residents and 510 were staff members.
County-by-county breakdown of total cases and deaths:*
- Colbert County
- Residents - 21 cases, 0 deaths
- Staff - 46 cases, 0 deaths
- DeKalb County
- Residents - 75 cases, 5 deaths
- Staff - 56 cases, 1 death
- Franklin County
- Residents - 80 cases, 9 deaths
- Staff - 63 cases, 0 deaths
- Jackson County
- Residents - 4 cases, 0 deaths
- Staff - 8 cases, 0 deaths
- Lauderdale County
- Residents - 56 cases, 10 deaths
- Staff - 57 cases, 0 deaths
- Lawrence County
- Residents - 21 cases, 0 deaths
- Staff - 12 cases, 0 deaths
- Limestone County
- Residents - 71 cases, 10 deaths
- Staff - 29 cases, 0 deaths
- Madison County
- Residents - 122 cases, 6 deaths
- Staff - 81 cases, 0 deaths
- Marshall County
- Residents - 69 cases, 11 deaths
- Staff - 62 cases, 0 deaths
- Morgan County
- Residents- 151 cases, 18 deaths
- Staff - 96 cases, 0 deaths
*Numbers as of the week ending on Sunday, August 2. CMS defines a week as Monday through Sunday.
One of the nursing homes that had dozens of cases early on was Burns Nursing Home in Russellville. After an employee tested positive in mid-April, Director Cam DeArman said they tested every staff member and resident because of how many people the employee was in close contact with over a 48-hour period.
"My biggest worry at the time was, do I have enough employees to take care of the remaining residents. As soon as we got the first positive back, we dismissed any rehab patients that we had. I think one went to a hospital and two went home, that was not positive," DeArman said.
By early May, there were 45 residents and 33 staff members who tested positive for the virus. After that, DeArman said the nursing home moved to secure N95 masks for their employees and continuously updated their safety protocols as they learned more about the possible symptoms of coronavirus.
In total, five of the residents who tested positive died, but because of the measures they took, Burns Nursing Home has only had one staff member test positive since the first week of June.
DeArman said what nursing homes need to overcome the virus is more and better testing.
“The main thing they need right now is being able to test and get results quicker and be more accurate. Because the accuracy of the results, when you get them in five days, still is not where it needs to be,” DeArman said. “I think the test still is about 33 percent inaccurate (for negative tests) and so that’s why you sometimes have to test twice before you get it over the 90th percentile.”
The federal government is in the process of aiding testing capacity. In late July, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “will begin requiring, rather than recommending, that all nursing homes in states with a 5 percent positivity rate or greater test all nursing home staff each week.”
As a part of that effort, HHS stated that it would be sending out 15,000 rapid point-of-care diagnostic testing devices. As of August 14, 78 of those were specifically designated for hard-hit nursing homes in Alabama, according to the Alabama Nursing Home Association.
That includes the following in north Alabama:
- Albertville Nursing Home - Albertville
- Brookshire Healthcare Center – Huntsville
- Decatur Health & Rehab Center – Decatur
- Falkville Health Care Center - Falkville
- Mitchell-Hollingsworth Nursing & Rehabilitation – Florence
- Senior Rehab & Recovery at Limestone Health Facility – Athens
- Windsor House – Huntsville
Additionally, HHS will allocate $5 billion of the Provider Relief Fund established through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for additional training and to address critical needs, like hiring additional staff, increasing testing and providing new technology to help families keep in touch with residents that they are unable to see in person.
“As caseloads continue to increase in areas around the country, it has never been more important that nursing homes have what they need to maintain a sturdy defense against the virus. These measures will help them do exactly that,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a statement.
In order to receive these funds, nursing homes need to participate in designated Nursing Home COVID-19 Training. In a public conference call with CMS and reporters on Thursday, Verma said the curriculum for the training is being developed and will roll out soon.
Last week, Governor Kay Ivey also announced $50 million in CARES Act funds will also be going toward nursing homes as a way to reimburse “operational costs that are COVID-19 related, such as PPE, cleaning, personnel costs, and other costs incurred related to the pandemic.”
The funds will be administered by the Alabama Nursing Home Association.
As they await further assistance, facilities like Valley View Health and Rehabilitation in Madison are taking proactive steps to slow the spread of coronavirus in their buildings. NHS Management Spokesman Joe Perkins said Valley View had its first confirmed case on July 5 and since then 16 residents and 22 employees tested positive.
Perkins said the facility has a designated coronavirus unit equipped with biohazard walls, negative pressure air scrubbers, and increased levels of personal protective equipment for staff.
As of August 14, there were only four residents in the coronavirus unit and two staff who were still symptomatic.
NHS Management also owns Athens Health and Rehabilitation, Crossville Health and Rehabilitation, and Huntsville Health and Rehabilitation.
Back in Russellville, because they’ve seen virtually no coroanvirus cases in the past two months, they were able to bring back in-person visitation using a plexiglass and wooden box.
Larry Plott said being able to come see his mother, Mildred, in person is a priceless experience.
“Monitors, we've dealt with those before and seeing them through before and seeing them through the window panes and there's nothing like being close. Even though there's plexiglass there, you're close to them, as close as everything will allow and I think that's great,” Plott said.
For more information on the reimbursement program through the state, click here.