Families concerned nursing home staff works with COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients

Employees testing COVID-19 positive at care facility has families concerned about spread

LOWER BURRELL, Pa. — Families of residents at Belair Nursing Home in Lower Burrell are worried their loved ones are being exposed to an increased risk to COVID-19.  The facility admitted in a statement to 11 Investigates that some of its staff members have been working with both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. That is against state and federal guidance because it increases the risk of COVID-19-free patients contracting the virus.

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“It’s only going to be a matter of time before the patients start getting infected, just like the staff is,” said Stacey Williams, whose 67-year old father, Daniel Kotlar, is a resident of Belair.

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Employees test positive

Belair’s parent company Guardian Elder Care also confirmed six employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the company started bringing in COVID-19-positive patients two months ago.  11 Investigates broke the story in July that Guardian added a COVID-19 unit at Belair, which had been COVID-19-free, without informing family members.

“I was shocked,” Williams said, referring to the company taking that step, which left many families upset and concerned about the possible spread of the virus.

Williams contacted 11 Investigates after hearing from employees that nurses and nurse’s aides were working in both the COVID-19 unit, which is in the basement of the facility, as well as on the upstairs floor with COVID-19-free patients.

“When they’re so short-staffed, a COVID nurse downstairs — they’ll bring them upstairs — and they can work a double shift upstairs after they’ve worked downstairs,” Williams said.

11 Investigates talked with a Belair employee, who wanted to remain anonymous. The employee confirmed crossover care.

“Say you work COVID Monday and Tuesday, then you come in on Wednesday and Thursday, and you work upstairs with non-COVID people,” the employee said.

Company confirms crossover care

At the time of our original report, Guardian told 11 Investigates in a statement that it was taking many precautions to protect residents and staff, including using separate staff, as recommended by state and federal guidelines.  In response to questions from 11 Investigates, however, the company admitted that does not always happen.

“There are a small number of therapists who are in contact with COVID and non-COVID patients,” Guardian said in a statement.

The company added, “They change into appropriate PPE before coming into contact with COVID patients. After visiting COVID patients, they leave through a separate exit.”

The employee also told 11 Investigates that crossover employees do leave through a different exit but come in through the same entrance as all the other workers.

Employee says more than just “therapists”

The employee also said it’s not just “therapists” working with both COVID-19-positive and COVID-19-free patients, as the company claimed.  They said it’s also nurses and nurse’s aides.

“Some nurses scheduled for COVID were downstairs and worked a couple of hours, and they got pulled from COVID, and went straight up to non-COVID,” the employee told 11 Investigates. “They said it was OK because you discard (your PPE) downstairs, then walk around to the front and walk in, like that made it OK.”

The employee also told 11 Investigates at least two of the employees who did crossover care have tested positive for COVID-19.

Families say they want the facility to use stricter protocols to protect their loved ones.

“My biggest worry is that it’ll spread, and they’ll have an outbreak,” Williams said. “It breaks my heart because I already feel guilty for having to have him here because I can’t take care of him myself.”

11 Investigates sent follow-up questions to Guardian Elder Care, asking whether nurses and nurse’s aides also provide crossover care (not just therapists) and whether any of the employees who tested positive for COVID-19 provided crossover care. We are waiting for a response from the public relations company, which is handling Guardian’s media inquiries.

Nursing home goes from nearly no COVID-19 cases to almost two dozen in a week