Local nursing home resident dies from COVID-19

Woman, 92, had underlying health conditions
March 31, 2020

The first death of a female nursing home resident related to COVID-19 has occurred in Sussex County. A resident at Brandywine Living at Seaside Point died March 29 due to complications from corornavirus.

On March 30, Delaware Division of Public Health officials announced the death of a 92-year-old Sussex County woman who had significant underlying health conditions. The source of exposure is currently under investigation, health officials said.

Brandywine Executive Director Donna Winegar confirmed the resident was at Brandywine, located near Rehoboth Beach. “At this time there have been no other cases diagnosed with residents or staff,” she said.

Previously, in a March 26 letter, Winegar announced that a resident in their 90s had tested positive for COVID-19. “The resident has been with us for several years with underlying conditions and is isolated in their room,” Winegar said. “In an abundance of caution, as part of an increased distancing protocol, all residents will remain in and be cared for in their rooms and all staff will wear personal protective gear.”

Other cases in the state

On March 26 in New Castle County, DHSS officials confirmed seven positive cases at the Little Sisters of the Poor Jeanne Jugan Residence in Ogletown. One of those, an 86-year-old man, later died.

Then on March 28, health officials said six residents of a memory care unit at Harbor Chase in Wilmington had tested positive.

“Responding to multiple cases of COVID-19 in such facilities is among our greatest concerns,” said DHSS Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker. “The populations who live in these facilities are at the highest risk for COVID-19, based on their age and underlying health conditions.”

Odom Walker said DHSS staff are working with the facilities to ensure that residents who test positive for COVID-19 are isolated from other residents, and that staff are following strict safety protocols regarding care of the residents with the virus and screening of everyone who enters the facilities.


Dramatic changes in operations

COVID-19 has caused dramatic changes in the operation of area nursing, assisted-living and retirement facilities. Most closed their doors to the public the third week of March. All group activities stopped and scheduled routines came to an abrupt halt.

Facilities have restricted access to essential staff, and most visitors are prohibited. Many nonessential services to residents and patients have been suspended, dining rooms are closed and meals are being served or delivered to rooms, apartments or cottages. As a result, most residents are isolated in their rooms for most of the day.

Staff are screened daily and anyone exhibiting signs of illness is not permitted in facilities.

On March 13, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued the following measures for nursing homes nationwide:

• Restricting all visitors, effective immediately, with exceptions for compassionate care, such as end-of-life situations

• Restricting all volunteers and nonessential healthcare personnel and other personnel, such as barbers and hair dressers

• Canceling all group activities and communal dining

• Implementing active screening of residents and health care personnel for fever and respiratory systems

• In cases of compassionate care, visitors are equipped with personal protective equipment such as masks, and the visits will be limited to a specific room


Facilities react to crisis

Like other facilities in the area, The Moorings at Lewes, a Springpoint community, has suspended all routine housekeeping, nonemergency maintenance services and nonessential services. Beauty and barbershop services have been discontinued and social visits by staff to residents are prohibited.

Julia Zauner, Springpoint vice president of marketing, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidelines are in place to protect residents and staff.

Zauner said employees are screened at shift change and at mid-shift. They fill out an assessment form and their temperatures are taken. “Any one showing any symptoms is not permitted in the building, and if they show symptoms of any illness during the day, they have to leave,” she said.

Zauner said employees are heroes working on the front line. “They are committed to keeping themselves and the residents safe,” she said, adding many workers are dealing with issues outside the workplace including having children at home with schools closed. “They are being flexible and really rising to the occasion,” she said.

“It can be a challenge, but we are making an extra effort to keep communications open between families and residents,” Zauner said. “Residents and families understand the need for this to keep everyone safe.”

She said staff are helping residents use FaceTime and Facebook Messenger video. The Moorings has 250 employees and 225 residents with 216 units, including 113 independent living apartments.


Keeping in touch

As families struggle to find ways to maintain ties to their loved ones, many are turning to technology.

Ken Madden Jr., whose 102-year-old father, Ken Sr., is a resident at Manor House, an ACTS Retirement-Life Community in Seaford, tries to keep in daily contact using Google Duo, set up on his dad's computer. “It keeps me aware of his current status, and it also helps us report how things are going out in the real world. He told me yesterday he think's it's almost two weeks that he hasn't been out of his room,” Madden said.

Up until two weeks ago, Madden visited his parents – his mother passed away last year – on a daily basis.

Like many residents, Madden said, even though he tried to warn him, his father doesn't fully understand how many restrictions would be put in place.


Nursing homes face the virus

Earlier in March, the senior-living industry had a dire wake-up call when the virus ravaged the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., killing at least 35 residents and staff.

According to a March 23 report by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 147 nursing homes in 27 states have reported at least one case of COVID-19. There are 15,000 facilities nationwide with 1.3 million residents and patients.


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