August 7, 2020 10:28:00 AM
Yue Stella Yu - [email protected]
Following dozens of COVID-19 cases among its residents and employees over the past weeks, Trinity Place Retirement Community is now seeing improvements as patients recover and staffing levels rise, Community Outreach Director Rhonda Richardson told Columbus Exchange Club members at Lion Hills Center on Thursday afternoon.
The Columbus-based health care group -- which operates 140 independent-living apartments, the Trinity Healthcare Center and the Trinity Place Personal Care -- has seen six COVID-19-related deaths at its facilities as of Thursday morning, Richardson said. Three of its nursing home residents still struggle with the COVID-19 infection, she said, but 19 others are recovering. Staff-wise, all 24 employees who tested positive for the virus have returned to work, she said.
The first case of COVID-19 took the life of a resident at Trinity Healthcare Center the week of May 31, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which requires nursing homes to report on a weekly basis starting the week of May 24. The nursing home went several weeks without any new cases, but saw a spike of 13 cases the week of July 12 and 11 new cases the following week, data shows.
Richardson said she thinks Trinity implemented precautionary measures swiftly at the beginning of the pandemic, which helped curb the spread of the virus within its facilities before the July outbreak.
"This all started so early, we really jumped on (it) before we were even told we need to jump on there," she said.
Trinity started limiting visitations to its assisted living, nursing home and in-house rehab units on March 9, she said, two days before Mississippi's first confirmed case on March 11. It then tightened those policies on March 19 to allow essential workers and hospice unit visits only, she said.
At the health care center and the personal care units, senior residents are screened three times a day for fever and other symptoms, and employees are screened twice each day before their shifts, Richardson said. Employees must wear masks at all times and residents must do so around others, she said.
Following the outbreak in July, activities, which used to take place in the hallways at the beginning of the pandemic, were all suspended, Richardson said. To limit the spread among residents, Trinity's employees have been delivering mails, groceries and meals to each resident at both the health care centers and roughly 130 residents at the independent-living apartments. The National Guards also offered coronavirus testing roughly five weeks ago at its health care facilities for all residents and employees, she said.
But with all the measures in place, the health care centers still witnessed an outbreak as the governor began reopening the state and Mississippians grew more lax over time, leading to an uptick in the number of cases on all levels, Richardson said. As of Wednesday, Lowndes County had seen 72 cases and 19 deaths among long-term care facility residents, according to data from the Mississippi State Department of Health.
"When we started opening back up, and that's where it came in," she said. "As more people began to relax precautions and Mississippi's numbers began to escalate, it became impossible to keep the virus away from the elders and our employees."
It is also hard to regulate the residents' behaviors, especially at the independent living units, where only four employees are on site, Richardson said. Although there have been no cases reported at the apartments, she said, the residents would sometimes drive out and back despite discouragement from the management, adding risks of potential exposure to the virus.
"It's hard dealing with 130 elderly people and you tell them, 'Stay in your apartment. You can't have any visitors,'" she said. "We can ask them all day long and they have a mind of their own."
With dozens of staff infected, Trinity also temporarily lost half of its staff at one time, with some nurses "pulling double-duties" to care for residents, Richardson said. But with employees recovering, Trinity is seeing its staff level rise to normal. Currently, 391 employees are spread across the facilities, she told The Dispatch.
As the situation improves, Richardson said she understands the urge among family members to see their loved ones at Trinity. However, following the CMS guidelines, the centers cannot open back up for visitations unless the facility no longer has an outbreak and the county sees a steady decline in the number of cases for a consecutive two-week period, she said.
"I'm sick and tired (of the pandemic), but it is what it is," she said.
Yue Stella Yu is the local government reporter for The Dispatch. Reach her at 662-328-2424 (ext 106) or follow her on Twitter @StellaYu_Mizzou