Two Vigo County long-term care facilities, Signature HealthCARE and Meadows Manor North, have seen COVID-19 cases surging in recent weeks.

Currently, Signature HealthCARE of Terre Haute has 25 positive residents and 13 positive staff members, said Ann Bowdan Wilder, Signature HealthCARE spokeswoman based in Louisville, Kentucky. The facility is located at 3500 Maple Ave.

To date, the long-term care facility has had "14 of our beloved residents who were COVID positive at the time of their passing. The loss of any of our residents, no matter the reason, truly saddens us all and is nothing short of devastating," she stated Friday in an email response to Tribune-Star questions.

The Indiana Department of Health's COVID-19 dashboard updates information each Wednesday for long-term care facilities on the number of positive residents, positive staff and resident deaths. The dashboard reflects numbers from the prior week, and the data is cumulative to the start of the pandemic.

• As of Oct. 28, Signature Health had 67 resident cases, nine deaths and 44 staff cases, according to the state's dashboard this week. The number of resident cases reported had doubled from Oct. 21, when state data showed 32 resident cases, less than five deaths and 33 staff cases.

Bowdan Wilder provided a detailed written response to the Tribune-Star on the facility's response.

"The rising numbers of coronavirus cases in the community, and its impact, is a daunting reminder of the virulence of COVID-19 and our world’s daily battle with this pandemic. Signature HealthCARE of Terre Haute understands the fear and concern that comes with those rising numbers. However, our facility and its staff continue to work diligently to fight its spread, even in times of increased cases within the community, with aggressive testing and proactive protocols outlined by the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the state."

Signature in Terre Haute has created a specialized COVID-19 unit, which the company has also done in about four dozen of its facilities nationwide.

The COVID-19 unit will be isolated with barrier systems in place, separating itself from the rest of the facility, with separate supplies, food, its own entrance, and dedicated staff who work on the COVID unit only. Personal protective equipment will be provided and worn.

In developing the COVID-19 unit, Signature has consulted with infectious disease physician and nurse consultants, Bowdan Wilder wrote. If at any time a physician determines a resident needs a higher level of care, the resident will be treated at one of the facility's partnering hospitals.

Currently, the Terre Haute facility tests residents and staff once every seven days, per regulatory mandates, she stated.

Signature also has emphasized communication with residents, family and staff to keep them informed, and a family hotline has been created to provide updated information to residents' responsible parties.

The facility also strives "in taking every precaution possible" and in following the guidelines of the CDC and other government agencies. Those include screening all stakeholders and residents daily for symptoms; using PPE; and restricting visitation.

"In this fight, we also ask that our community remain vigilant about this virus as well ... it is imperative that our community observe the social distancing guidelines and the wearing of masks within our communities to help contain the spread of this virus to our loved ones," Bowdan Wilder stated.

• As of Oct. 28, Meadows Manor North, 3150 N. Seventh St., had reported 31 resident cases, less than five deaths and five infected staff, according to this week's updated state dashboard. Numbers are cumulative. The week prior, data showed less than five resident cases, no deaths and less than five staff cases.

Wendy McNamara-Baker, Meadows Manor North health facility administrator, said, "We are experiencing an outbreak for the residents. We are on the downslide of our outbreak."

Residents continue to recover. "We are hoping to have our COVID unit closed by next week. We continue to work with state and local officials to help us," McNamara-Baker said.

A representative of the Indiana National Guard has been at the long-term facility to assist with paperwork and "to help with administrative burden," she said. "They do not do patient care. Most of them are not medically-trained personnel." They also help with cleaning of high-touch areas, she said.

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic "is very challenging on our staff to watch our beloved residents have to go through this and our family members that we get very close with being isolated from their families. Our heart breaks for the residents' families who have lost their loved ones to this horrible disease," McNamara-Baker said.

No visitation is allowed at this time. "When that first patient became positive, we had to suspend all visitation" effective Oct. 13, she said.

The facility completed its own contact tracing, and "we had an idea of who our possible affected residents could be," she said. A non-symptomatic staff member unknowingly brought it into the facility.

Meadows Manor North has a designated COVID unit that is in compliance with federal and state guidelines.

A few affected residents did have to be hospitalized, she said.

"I hope this disease is over soon. The community numbers are affecting us," McNamara-Baker said. "It's in our community. Our employees bring it here, and it is devastating when it hits our doors."

The facility ended visitation March 9 for the safety of residents, and in June it began allowing outdoor visitation on the patio. It allowed outdoor visitation through Oct. 13, when it had to be suspended "until we are over this crisis, this outbreak. We hope to be over the outbreak by next week," McNamara-Baker said.

Other nursing homes have been affected by the pandemic as well. The state dashboard this week showed that Southwood Healthcare Center, 2222 E. Margaret Ave., has had 49 resident cases, seven deaths and 22 staff cases. That represented no change from the prior week.

Eric Bloom, a CommuniCare spokesman, said there is currently no outbreak at Southwood, but it does currently have three positive resident cases and one staff member. State dashboard numbers go back to the start of the pandemic.

"With community spread, it's not unique to nursing homes or Southwood. I think it's a challenge for all health care providers, whether hospitals or nursing homes," he said. "Now that we have a better understanding of transmission and therapeutics, I think the entire health industry is in a better position to mitigate spread through testing and surveillance."

The Vigo County Health Department does have a contact tracer who works closely with the long-term care facilities, said Roni Elder, department spokeswoman. The Indiana National Guard is assisting nursing homes throughout the state.

While agencies and facilities are working to keep COVID-19 spread under control, "The numbers are growing in long-term care," she said. "That's definitely not what we want. This is causing hospitalizations to go up, and our death rates are already going up a little bit. We'll see more deaths from that population than we would any other, so it's very concerning."
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