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'A matter of time': Administrators react to coronavirus cases in DeKalb County senior living facilities

DeKALB – Less than two months after the first reported case of the novel coronavirus in DeKalb County, the first COVID-19 case was reported in a long-term care facility.

Now, there’s been six cases alone identified this week at Pine Acres Rehab and Living Center as the county case count fast approaches 350, and administrators at long-term care facilities are taking note.

Stephen Cichy, executive director at Oak Crest Retirement Center, said it’s a credit to the staff at retirement and nursing homes across the county that it took this long for there to be an outbreak at a senior care facility.

“With the emergence of COVID in DeKalb County, I don’t think anybody should be terribly surprised that it would start to show up in nursing homes,” Cichy said. “They’re the most fragile. So are we shocked, are we surprised? I don’t think so. It’s been in the general community and it was more a matter of time before it showed up. We’re all saddened, but I don’t know that anybody is surprised.”

The DeKalb County Health Department has begun listing cases at long-term care facilities in its daily data reports. DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center reported one case in a staff member May 15. Pine Acres Rehab and Living Center has two cases among staff and four among its residents reported between Saturday and Monday.

Messages left at Pine Acres on Tuesday were not returned. No new COVID-19 cases were reported at Pine Acres Tuesday.

Cichy said that Oak Crest will follow the same procedures it has, namely following directives from state and federal departments.

“It’s really led to the end of communal dining, the end of group programming, and really trying to protect people by having them isolated from friends and family, which is extremely difficult,” Cichy said. “Nursing homes have had to exclude visitors for what, two months now? We follow those rules and as employees come and go we test them and we do a screen as people come in. What you’re doing is checking for symptoms and temperature.”

Cichy said Oak Crest has about 270 residents, with 71 of those in the nursing home and others receiving varying levels of assistance. He said they have 240 total employees as well.

Oak Crest has tried to incorporate technology more, Cichy said, with helping residents video chat with family members. He said they’ve also set up barriers to allow for in-person visits as well. They’ve even done some programming where residents attend from their doorways to maintain social distancing.

“I think the thing that has been the most difficult is the social aspect,” Cichy said. “You reach a balance of a society, a state and a community. At what point are your efforts to keep people safe almost too much that you’re having people not be able to be with a spouse of 50, 60 years because one person is in a nursing home and the other person is not. That’s tough.”

Maureen Gerrity, administrator at Barb City Manor, said her facility – a retirement home, not a nursing home – is also continuing with the same precautions.

“We’re fortunate we’re not a nursing home,” Gerrity said. “A nursing home is much more vulnerable just because of the residents are in and out of the hospital a lot more than ours are. We’re independent living so our residents are a lot healthier, obviously.”

With DeKalb set to enter the next phase of the state’s reopening plan, Gerrity said she feels there might be a spike in cases.

“That doesn’t mean the virus won’t come, especially as the restrictions are eased and the general public is more active,” Gerrity said. “Of course we’re going to be more vulnerable. It’s going to be more likely somewhere someone is going to pick it up.”

Cichy also said that a spike in cases in DeKalb County longterm care facilities is likely.

“At some point, someone is going to have contact with someone that is asymptomatic,” Cichy said. “In spite of everyone’s best efforts, that’s probably going to start appearing in different types of organizations, not just long-term care.”

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