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Mulberry Creek hit with outbreak of 18 new cases
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Mulberry Creek hit with outbreak of 18 new cases

From the Martinsville-region COVID-19/coronavirus daily update from state, nation and world: Aug. 19 series
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Five employees and 13 residents of Mulberry Creek Rehab have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past two weeks.

Robert McClintic III, the CEO of Kissito Healthcare, which owns the skilled nursing facility, confirmed the outbreak, which he said brings the total of positive coronavirus cases at Mulberry Creek to 11 employees and 18 residents.

The Virginia Department of Health defines an outbreak as two or more sick from the same source, said West Piedmont Health District spokesperson Nancy Bell, who added: "I am aware of significant outbreaks at long-term care facilities in Martinsville, Bassett and Stuart."

VDH reports there have been 10 outbreaks for 205 cases as of Tuesday in the health district. Some 92 cases involved healthcare workers. Statewide 8,852 cases have involved long-term care facilities.

Mulberry Creek is one of eight long-term care facilities owned by Kissito Healthcare, which is based in Roanoke. Before it was purchased by Kissito last year, the facility was known as Blue Ridge Rehab.

McClintic said that a unit on the first floor, 1 South, has been designated for residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The building is set up to allow complete separation, he said, closed off from each other by fire doors. “Not every facility has the luxury of having an open unit like that,” he said.

“We have been extremely diligent in testing,” McClintic said. That includes “six 100% tests of residents and employees, as well as testing if somebody has a sign or symptom.”

Kissito “contracted early with a lab out of South Carolina, Charleston, that has worked diligently with us in providing testing,” he said. “We have been successful for the most part. It’s disturbing when you start to have cases.”

The facility gives the staff questionnaires and temperature checks regularly, he said.

With masks, “we’ve been extremely proactive there as well. Gowns and masks have been very hard to come by, but we’ve done a very nice job of keeping masks and gowns, N95 and KN95 [masks]. PPE is very hard to get a hold of,” but Kissito has “25,000 gowns in the home office that we deliver in excess to” the company’s facilities.

“We give gowns out daily. Masks are weekly,” unless they are soiled, in which case they are replaced.

But four certified nursing assistants at Mulberry, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of how they would be treated at work, described different conditions and broader potential exposures.

They said said that the third floor recently has been made into a second coronavirus ward, which two said is difficult to access when it is closed off from the rest of the facility, requiring traversing three flights of stairs.

One CNA said that staff members working on the third floor are not allowed to leave at any time during their 8-hour shifts, for breaks or lunch, including not being allowed to go to the smoking area, but one said that employees who work in the third-floor unit and who are considered to be potentially contaminated with the coronavirus walk through other non-coronavirus sections of the building to get to the smoking area during their shifts.

When asked in a later conversation about using the third floor for coronavirus patients , McClintic said, “We haven’t actually started that yet. That could be a possibility. It all depends on test results.”

Two of the CNAs said that at least one patient who had not tested positive for the coronavirus had been placed in the same room as one who had tested positive for it.

And the four CNAs said they did not receive enough personal protective equipment (PPE). They said they had to use the same mask for at least a week, and some said for longer than that. One CNA said she takes her masks home to wash with bleach. 

All four said that it is very difficult to get masks from some of the nurse-supervisors, even when the masks they are wearing are clearly soiled. Two said that if they find administrator Bob Nelson, he gives new masks when requested, with no questions, delays or problems.

Three of the CNAs said the facility is not kept clean, and the housekeeping department is short-staffed. One said she sneaks in a bottle of bleach to clean the areas around her because she worries that they are dirty.

“From Day 1, we’ve added additional housekeepers," McClintic said. "We had an infection control survey from the state – we were deficiency-free. I think sometimes staff are going to say what they want to say sometimes. We work diligently in that facility on cleanliness.”

Three of the CNAs also said the air conditioning frequently does not work, and the atmosphere inside the building is hot and stifling, and people inside sweat a great deal.

The women talked about feeling afraid for their health, their lives and possibly carrying home the disease to their family members.

Three of the CNAs said staff are moved from section to section, which they feel increases the possibility of transmitting infections.

Two of them said the facility gave a hazard pay of an additional $2 an hour for six to eight weeks in the spring. Their standard base pay ranges from $13 to $13.50, they said.

Employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus are sent home for 14 days to quarantine, McClintic said. They are paid at their regular rate of pay for those 14 days, and if they require additional time off work, they can take any paid time off to which they may be entitled.

Employees who have tested positive would be allowed to return to work after having received negative results on two tests, he said.

Most of the CNAs talked about a Facebook fundraiser for a Mulberry Creek nurse who has COVID-19. Her family members have it also, they said, and she is home on oxygen therapy.

The fundraiser was started on Friday. Its goal was $300, and the fundraiser closed once $320 was raised.

“Everybody understands that the nursing home industry is under a lot of stress right now,” McClintic said. “We continue working hard, continue to hope and pray to open back up for visitation. We continue to do what we can to take care of the residents,” following the Centers for Disease Control and other proper protocol.

“We want people to understand, yes, we have had an uptick in cases here in the last 14 days. We continue to battle this daily. We continue doing the right thing. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with asymptomatic employees and residents, it’s a challenge.”

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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