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Virus spares region’s nursing homes

‘We’re very blessed’ that facilities succeed at limiting exposure

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine fielded questions Wednesday about coronavirus outbreaks in long-term living facilities, which has led to 7,600 residents and almost 1,000 employees becoming infected and 1,428 deaths.

In the daily webcast, Levine describing multiple efforts to control “this very challenging situation.”

Blair County has not had even one coronavirus case in its nursing and personal care homes, while the six-county region has had only five cases in total, according to the DoH website.

“We’re very blessed,” said Garvey Manor Administrator Sister Joachim Anne Ferenchak. “All the long-term care facilities (in the county) have done an amazing job limiting any exposure.”

That’s taken great vigilance, Ferenchak said, after crediting the grace of God.

Still, “every single day (an infection) could happen,” she said.

It has helped immensely that Blair is not a virus hotspot — with only 23 total cases out of 44,000 for the state, said Ferenchak and Kristin Hambleton, spokeswoman for Presbyterian Senior Living, Dillsburg, parent company of Presbyterian Village in Hollidaysburg.

Presbyterian has 12 homes or “communities” in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and 55 residents have contracted the virus in six of those, with seven deaths. Most of the problems are in hotspots, according to Hambleton.

While there’s no guarantee that a facility can keep out COVID-19, it’s easier in more rural areas with lower populations and less community spread, Hambleton said.

Nursing homes were the first societal sector to undergo restrictions, Ferenchak said.

Garvey has been prohibiting visitors; screening staff twice a day, both coming and going; screening residents at least twice a day; quarantining new admissions; keeping residents a safe distance apart in the home; requiring staffers not to report when they’re feeling ill; taking no residents out for health care appointments; wiping down packages delivered for residents or quarantining those packages, depending on their surfaces; and unboxing supplies that are delivered to the home outside, according to Ferenchak.

The home tries to ensure that staffers — “the heroes” — are “well-supported and well-educated” in best practices, as well as protected from infection, Ferenchak said.

Employees of the Presbyterian homes are “well-versed” in the necessary procedures, including “donning and doffing” of gear, Hambleton said.

Garvey’s practices are in keeping with frequently updated information from the DoH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Ferenchak said.

“The process seems to be working,” she said.

It’s burdensome and expensive, but worth it, she said.

Price gouging on personal protective equipment, which is in short supply nationally, is one of the reasons it’s expensive, she said.

Garvey has been planning for infections to happen.

“We have had the benefit of time to work through some of the what-ifs,” Ferenchak said.

The plans include use of tactics like “cohorting” of infected patients, strategies for ensuring availability of PPE and instructions for keeping up communication with emergency management officials, according to Ferenchak.

If an infection occurs, “I hope and pray we are all prepared,” she said.

The home has tried to avoid creating the impression among residents that the situation is a crisis by being organized in its approach, according to Ferenchak.

But social distancing has been hard on residents, especially at mealtime, when they’re used to sitting right across the table from one another, she said.

Ferenchak is “concerned” about the state’s plans for reopening some areas to some extent on May 8, because that could increase the incidence of infection in the outside community, raising the risk for Garvey.

Hambleton indicated that she doesn’t think it’s helpful to worry about that.

“We can only control what we do in our (homes),” she said.

One Cambria County long-term living facility has had one resident infected with COVID-19; while Centre County has had two homes with two residents infected — as has Clearfield County, according to the DoH website, which doesn’t identify the homes.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

By the numbers

New/total COVID-19 county cases: Blair 2 / 23;

Bedford 2 / 24 (1 death); Cambria 3 / 25 (1 death); Centre 2 / 95 (1 death); Clearfield 3 / 14; Huntingdon 3 / 29;

Area new/total cases: 15 / 210

New/total cases statewide: 1,102 (down 9 percent) / 44,366

New/total deaths statewide: 497 / 2,195

New/total negative tests in area counties: 168 / 3,717

New/total tests in area (new positives plus new negatives): 182 / 3,927, 0.6 percent of population

New/total negative tests statewide: 4,694 / 170,518

New/total tests statewide: 5,796 / 214,884; 1.6 percent of population

Infection rate (percent of population with confirmed positives) region / state: 0.035 percent / 0.034 percent

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