Governor, officials assure steps being taken toward safety of long-term care residents

Following Monday’s confirmation by the Department of Public Health of an outbreak in a long-term care facility in Cedar Rapids, Gov. Kim Reynolds was joined Tuesday by officials in the long-term care industry to assure Iowans of the steps being taken to mitigate the threat of COVID-19, particularly in light of that population’s vulnerability to the virus and communal style of living .

“What we know about COVID-19 is it presents the highest risk of serious illness and death to the elderly and people with preexisting medical conditions,” said Brent Willett, president and CEO, Iowa Health Care Association. “Our association serves long-term care providers across the state, including nursing facilities, assisted living and home health agencies who provide care for Iowa’s elderly and most vulnerable residents. We’re committed to doing all we can to protect the health and well-being of Iowa’s elderly and most vulnerable.”

Willett said while there are already a number of tools they use to protect their populations on a daily basis, in situations where there is a heightened risk, such as now, they have implemented visitation protocols and procedures to protect those in their care and have utilized health screening protocols for anyone entering our facilities.

Iowa providers have implemented national and state guidance regarding non-essential visits to long-term care facilities and allow entry to only individuals who need entry, he said, as well as  restricting activities and visitors with potential for exposure and actively screen individuals who enter the building. Additionally, procedures require all individuals to wash their hands at entry and offer remote communication options for residents and families.

“We understand the challenges these visitation procedures have placed on families, however, it is vitally important that we do everything we can to protect the health and safety of their loved ones and our residents,” he said.

He added the association has sought waivers that allow them to take appropriate actions quickly, such as moving patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 to separate wings to receive care, and the association has developed a crisis-response toolkit to assist providers with the steps to take if such a situation occurs, including action checklists; employee and patient screening protocols; PPE guidance and communications tools to help them communicate with the Iowa Department of Public Health, family members and staff.

Shannon Strickler, President/CEO of LeadingAge Iowa, which represents not-for-profit aging services providers in Iowa, said much of their work now revolves around safety and compliance, development of plans and protocols to respond to “what-if” scenarios related to COVID-19 and following the guidance of IDPH, the CDC, CMS and DIA.

It is also closely monitoring PPE supply; implementing visitor restrictions, with the exception of end-of-life; performing daily medical screenings of all team members; put on hold all group activities and communal dining; and practicing, Strickler said.

Additionally, staff is being cross-trained as part of the emergency staffing plans and it is connecting virtually with displaced workers who have an interest in opportunities to work with older adults.

Members are supporting the well-being of residents and communicating with residents and family members to both educate and reassure, keeping residents engaged and connected, all while following proper guidelines, she added.

“I’d like to commend and thank all the team members who are placing their own needs and worries aside to care for the residents who need them. They have been resolved, resilient, creative and compassionate,” Strickler said, while thanking the public for understanding the need for restrictions and programming changes. “As the governor has indicated these past few weeks, the public is a key partner in keeping Iowans healthy and slowing the spread within the state.

The governor added her thanks to the doctors, nurses, assistants, aides and others caring for seniors statewide.

“This is an especially challenging time, and your work is so important. So, please be safe, and take care of yourself, so you can continue to serve Iowans who need you. A heartfelt thanks for all you do,” she said.

The governor also took a moment to highlight a new service set up by Iowa Legal Aid in partnership with The Iowa State Bar Association and the Polk County Volunteer Lawyers Project, a COVID-19 Legal Information Hotline to help Iowans who have questions or are experiencing legal problems due to the crisis.

The hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-332-0419, and is toll free.

The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) has been notified of 73 additional positive cases of Iowans with COVID-19, it was announced Tuesday, for a total of 497 positive cases.

One death was reported in Muscatine County, a middle-aged (41-60) resident.

There have been a total of 6,888 negative tests to date, which includes testing reported by the State Hygienic Lab and other labs.

According to IDPH, the locations and age ranges of the 73 individuals include:

  • Black Hawk County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)
  • Cedar County, 1 middle age adult (41-60 years)
  • Clay County, 1 adult (18-40 years)
  • Clinton County, 2 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Dallas County, 4 adults (18-40 years)
  • Harrison County, 1 middle age adult (41-60 years)
  • Iowa County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)
  • Jasper County, 1 elderly adult (81+)
  • Johnson County, 2 adults (18-40 years), 1 middle-age (41-60 years)
  • Jones County, 2 adults (18-40 years), 1 middle age (41-60 years)
  • Keokuk County, 1 adult (18-40 years)
  • Linn County, 3 adults (18-40 years), 7 middle age adults (41-60 years), 7 older adults (61-80 years), 2 elderly (81+)
  • Marshall County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Muscatine County, 2 middle-age (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Polk County, 1 child (0-17), 5 adults (18-40 years), 3 middle age adults (41-60 years), 4 older adult (61-80 years), 2 elderly (81+)
  • Pottawattamie County, 1 middle-age (41-60 years)
  • Scott County, 2 middle-age (41-60 years)
  • Sioux County, 1 middle age adult (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Tama County, 1 adult (18-40 years)
  • Warren County, 2 middle-age (41-60 years)
  • Washington County, 3 adults (18-40 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years), 1 elderly (81+)

A status report of monitoring and testing of COVID19 in Iowa is provided by IDPH and can be found here. In addition, a public hotline has been established for Iowans with questions about COVID-19. The line is available 24/7 by calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.

The state of Iowa has started sharing the number of negative tests conducted at outside labs and is providing additional information on the conditions of those infected with COVID-19.