Coronavirus: Families of residents in North Hills nursing home say they’ve been left in the dark

ALLEGHENY CO., Pa. — Families of residents at a North Hills nursing home said they have been left in the dark when it comes to COVID-19 cases and deaths.

One person who has a loved one in long-term care at ManorCare North Hills -- a nursing and rehabilitation center -- told Channel 11 she has major concerns about the increase in coronavirus cases there since she found out about it through the Pa. Department of Health website.

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That woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said the first letter from the facility regarding a positive case came in June. The last letter came in early August, notifying family members of 39 resident cases.

However, the health department’s most recent report from Aug. 31 said there were 110 residents and 52 staff members who had tested positive -- and 21 deaths.

“I receive personal updates about my family member who thankfully is negative, but that’s all I receive,” the woman said.

She told Channel 11 her relative is upset, confused, lonely and supports Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine’s new initiative “Compassionate Caregivers,” which would allow family or others to visit residents.

To help curb the spread of COVID-19 at facilities like ManorCare, Levine also recommends new testing procedures for skilled nursing facilities for low, moderate and substantial coronavirus activity.

ManorCare has low activity: less than a 5% positivity rate within seven days. That means routine testing of asymptomatic residents is not recommended, but it is recommended for staff every four weeks.

“If an outbreak is occurring in a facility, then universal testing should occur and will occur rapidly to determine the spread of the virus -- and we will intervene,” Levine said.

At ManorCare North Hills, family members said their loved ones are tested once a week, but they feel more needs to be done to keep families informed.

ManorCare is just one of many local care facilities to have outbreaks of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Brighton Rehab had the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the state — with more than 400 cases and 73 deaths, and it was also criticized for a lack of transparency. Monroeville Rehab went from reporting zero cases to 47 cases and seven deaths in just a week earlier in August. As of Aug. 12, Monroeville Rehab reported 55 cases — 10 still “active” and 45 “resolved,” including eight resident deaths.

ManorCare sent Channel 11 a statement regarding the spread of coronavirus. You can read it below:

“As the family member mentioned, we have sent written letters to the family as well as updates on our website to reflect the numbers each day. In addition to these regular updates, our team keeps in telephone contact with families to discuss their loved one, our infection control measures and to answer their questions.

Most of our patients have recovered and once we have 14 days of negative tests, we’ll schedule safe visits as we know how important that is to patients and families. ManorCare Health Services – North Hills most recent Regional Response Health Collaboration Program (RRHCP) visit was very complimentary and we have had four infection control surveys that were all deficiency free.

We recognize the importance of reuniting our patients and residents with their loved ones and the impact that has on their quality of life and realize that this has been an extremely challenging time for families and residents. We are following state mandates and putting our policies in place to implement the reopening requirements to ensure that visitation is done in a way that protects them from the virus while also bringing them the benefits of in-person contact with loved ones. In addition, our organization is participating in Eli Lilly’s antibody infusion trials and are looking forward to being part of a solution for this horrible virus.

  • Restricting new admissions.
  • Taking regular symptom and temperature checks of all residents. We have reduced our temperature threshold to 99 degrees so we can address any change in condition rapidly.
  • Increased our sanitizing and cleaning processes.
  • Reviewing all inventory for personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns, and educating staff on proper use and disposal.
  • Working with the Department of Health, CDC and the community to minimize any additional risk.
  • Staying connected with families.
  • Regular updates and in-servicing of our care team.
  • Working with supply chain to ensure we have the appropriate PPE supplies.

Our precaution measures include creating an Airborne Isolation Unit or area (CAIU) as part of our infection control and treatment plan. This means:

  • We will designate an isolation unit for patients who meet our isolation criteria (higher risk patients).
  • The unit will have barriers installed to protect other residents and employees and keep higher risk patients in a focused treatment area.
  • We will have personal protective equipment dedicated to this unit.
  • As much as possible, we will have dedicated staff on the unit in CDC-approved Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This means respiratory masks, gowns, face shields or goggles and gloves.
  • Special cleaning, disposal, laundry and sanitizing measures will be enforced.

Whether we have a novel Coronavirus positive case, can get tests, are waiting for test results or have patients who may need additional monitoring, we manage the risk at the same level of intensity and commitment by adding enhanced monitoring and screening as well as putting into place isolation practices for patients or quarantine for employees.

We communicate directly with employees, patients and their families if they are affected or if there is a risk of exposure in our facility. This information is constantly changing and for us to report that information publicly may just add concern and fear rather than allay it. We are happy to address any concerns or questions employees, patients and families have directly with them.

We are doing everything we can to minimize risks associated with the novel Coronavirus in our facility. We are in very close communication with our medical director, clinical support team, and local and state health officials about the appropriate steps to serve the best interests of our patients, employees and visitors. We are instructing our staff and patients to follow the recommended preventative actions. We appreciate the Department of Health’s support in identifying and addressing this issue as well. We continue to take every precaution to prevent the spread of the infection and keep families informed.

Our employees are working extremely hard and in a challenging environment. They have had to think outside the box to keep families and patients informed and connected, change how we serve meals, deliver therapy and present activities while maintaining social distancing, hygiene practices and wearing PPE. They are true health care heroes and deserve to be recognized as such.”