Alma Health & Rehab breaks through COVID outbreak
With the experience of a COVID-19 outbreak now behind them, residents and staff at the Alma Health & Rehabilitation are in a juxtaposed reality. They mourn the deaths of eight residents who recently perished, but are on the other side of a long and dark proverbial tunnel.
At the height of the outbreak in early October, 44 residents and 34 staff members tested positive for the virus. As of Monday, they are mostly COVID-free. A waiver had been received from the Department of Health to allow asymptomatic staff members to care for COVID-positive residents.
The latest tests on Oct. 17 showed only four residents and two staff members are COVID-positive. But there were no new coronavirus cases.
“The first time we got test results back and none were positive I literally teared up,” said Debbie George-Fort, administrator for Alma Health & Rehab. “They were all negative, and these are the PCR tests, the most accurate … We’re on the other side of the river now ... we’re pretty much recovered and in the rebuilding stage.”
The testing was done on Oct. 15 and results were returned on Oct. 17, she noted. The new weekly Arkansas Department of Health report on COVID numbers in nursing homes was released on Oct. 16, so it did not show the latest numbers at the facility, George-Fort pointed out.
Alma Health & Rehab began disassembling its COVID unit on Monday.
With the numbers down, the administration is making plans to start readmitting patients and allow outdoor visitations. The facility has a resident capacity of 80. When the pandemic started in the spring, a halt was put on both new resident patients and short-term rehab patients, George-Fort added.
Guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention give George-Fort an option on testing patients who have made it through a COVID case. She said they will not have to retest the former COVID-positive cases for three months because of the antibodies that they now have to the virus.
“If someone tests positive, we do not test them again for 90 days unless they become symptomatic,” Arkansas Department of Health spokesperson Danyelle McNeill wrote in an email. “They are thought to be immune during this period of time, although there is no guarantee that this is the case. As we learn more about the virus and as we get more data, we keep updating based on national guidelines and consensus.”
McNeill noted the ADH is in “constant communication” with nursing homes, and works to facilitate testing and other resources as soon as necessary. The nursing home report comes out at least once a week, but the ADH responds to issues between reports as needed.
Unless something pops up then they expect to resume outside visitations soon. Residents and visitors still have to wear masks or a face shield and have no physical contact by keeping 6 feet away from each other.
During the lockdown, the nursing home was an island to itself on the mental and physical level.
“We’ve been doing a lot of Facetiming, and window visits with each person on a cellphone,” George-Fort explained. “They would tape up notes of encouragement, and other things like that. Visitors would put up bird feeders on their family member’s window or windmills outside. Just something for them to look at and remember them by.”
A courtyard with a temporary fence has also been set up to allow residents and visitors a place to catch up at a close, but social distance. The fence puts a 10-foot barrier between the two parties, so they at least don’t have to wear a mask if they don’t want to.