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The guard called to contain the COVID outbreak at two Minnesota nursing homes



In a worrying sign of the resurgence of COVID-19, the Minnesota National Guard has been called upon to provide emergency personnel support at two nursing homes struggling to contain large and deadly outbreaks of respiratory disease.

Over the past 10 days, the National Guard has sent small teams of medical professionals to facilities on opposite ends of the state where dozens of residents and staff have been sick and where staffing levels have become so depleted that they have turned to the state for help. . Both facilities – one in the city of Austin in southern Minnesota and the other on the Iron Range in Hibbing ̵

1; have active outbreaks and are isolating infected residents in separate COVID-19 units.

The rare deployments come amid an alarming resurgence of COVID-19 across the region and amid mounting evidence that the virus is infiltrating Minnesota’s 2,100 long-term care facilities after declining over the summer. They also reflect how the virus is moving to smaller facilities in rural areas where the staff shortage is most severe.

With cases on the rise statewide, public health experts fear chaotic scenes will repeat themselves this spring, when some homes for the elderly became so overwhelmed that they had to relocate residents to hospitals and get support staff to replace. as caregivers because so many employees were infected and had to. be quarantined.

The use of rapid testing and stricter isolation techniques have reduced coronavirus-related deaths in Minnesota nursing homes from their peak in May. Even so, the list of such facilities with at least a confirmed infection in a resident or worker in the past 28 days has grown from 239 on Sept. 1 to over 340, the state Department of Health reported last week. Just over 70 percent of Minnesota’s 2,151 coronavirus deaths occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“There are just a lot more diseases out there than we’ve seen in the past,” state health commissioner Jan Malcolm said Monday.

Even before the pandemic, long-term care facilities struggled to recruit and retain health workers. But the two nursing homes that have sought emergency help are in areas of the state where the staff shortage has been particularly severe, making them more vulnerable when the virus struck and employees became ill. Both facilities, the Sacred Heart Care Center in Austin and the Guardian Angels Health and Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing, have received above-average scores for overall care from federal health authorities.

The Minnesota National Guard has an Army and Air National Guard cadre who are trained doctors, medical assistants, nurses, and emergency medical technicians who can be deployed in facilities facing a staffing crisis, according to the Department of Health.

“If you have to call the National Guard, this is an extreme step – and it should be a reminder to all of us that we need to invest in staffing and retention in nursing homes,” said Joseph Gaugler, a professor who specializes in long-term care and aging at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

Late last week, the Sacred Heart Care Center, a 59-bed nursing home, requested assistance from the National Guard to help contain a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened nearly a third of its staff and about 60% of its residents, county officials said. The nursing home last month reported two dozen positive cases of the respiratory virus among its residents and staff, as well as two resident deaths, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.

On Saturday, a nurse and four medical technicians with the National Guard arrived at the nursing home under medical supervision to provide help with assistance to residents for up to two weeks. Mower County officials are also helping with weekly testing and monitoring personnel to ensure they are following appropriate infection control protocols, such as washing hands and wearing personal protective equipment properly.

The county also plans to engage consultants to help staff suffering from “compassion fatigue and burnout” care for residents during the outbreak, which began in late August, said Pam Kellogg, division manager at the Department of Services. Mower County Health and Human Resources.

“This is a very good facility, but it’s a shame that this virus is so contagious that it’s really hard to contain once it gets in,” Kellogg said. “You have staff who have had no symptoms and end up being positive [for COVID-19] when you run serial tests. “

Nearly 300 miles north of Hibbing, an even bigger outbreak has occurred at the 90-bed Guardian Angels Health and Rehabilitation Center, where 65 residents and staff have tested positive since the start of the pandemic and at least nine residents have died. due to the virus, according to an update on their website. On October 3, the National Guard sent a team of five medical professionals to help with care for the residents. A spokesman for the Department of Health said the “situation has stabilized” and the National Guard has since left.

The deployments reflect the toll the pandemic has taken on understaffed facilities. In April, about 40 residents of an assisted living facility in Wayzata were evacuated after COVID-19 invaded the home, infecting most residents and staff members and killing two residents. At the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Brainerd, so many staff members were infected in May that the facility brought in nine Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) nurses to stay open.

An August survey conducted by Care Providers of Minnesota, a long-term care industry group, found that nearly 15 percent of caregiver positions in nursing homes and assisted living facilities were not covered statewide.

Twitter: @chrisserres

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