Some Kentucky nursing homes are limiting visitors amid reports of first coronavirus cases

Source: Louisville Courier Journal
March 10, 2020

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Nursing homes around Kentucky have been on high alert for the new coronavirus, after reports last month from Washington state about an outbreak at a skilled care facility that killed more than a dozen residents and sickened others.

But when Gov. Andy Beshear on Friday announced Kentucky’s first COVID-19 case in Harrison County, some took the extra step of restricting visitors, said Betsy Johnson, president of the state Association of Health Care Facilities.

“There’s definitely a significant level of concern,” said Johnson, who’s in regular touch with nursing home administrators statewide with information and updates. “I don’t think anyone’s in a panic situation; they just want to know what the protocol is.”

Older people are considered more vulnerable to the virus, especially if they have other health problems, as do most residents of nursing homes.

Concern increased Sunday when Beshear announced the number of cases in Kentucky had grown to four, and again on Monday evening when the governor said two more cases were confirmed. The cases are reported in Harrison, Fayette and Jefferson counties.

Kentucky has about 300 nursing homes statewide with a capacity for 27,000 residents. Facilities in Harrison and Fayette counties are among those restricting visitors, Johnson said.

Some Louisville facilities also have stopped outside visitors.

Nazareth Home, which operates two nursing facilities in Louisville, one in the Highlands and the other in Clifton, announced a temporary end to visitors Monday, said CEO Mary Haynes.

“It’s a shame to have to restrict visitors,” Haynes said, but added “it’s a strong proactive step” to protect the about 270 residents on the two Nazareth campuses.

Letters went out Monday to friends, families and others asking them not to visit for now, and staff informed the residents.

Haynes said most people seem understanding but, “it’s a challenge to all of us is not knowing how long we’ll be limiting our exposure to others.”

For now, she said, residents will rely on Skype, FaceTime and other electronic means of communicating with friends and family outside Nazareth Home.

“We have a lot of iPads and notebooks,” Haynes said. “We’re encouraging a lot of Skype and Facebook Live. “We’ll see how it all plays out.”

Nazareth also is carefully screening all employees or anyone else who enters the buildings, including Roman Catholic priests who celebrate daily Mass at Nazareth.

So far, no employees have been restricted for reasons such as a fever or travel to the site of an outbreak, but one priest has been asked to remain away for 14 days because he had recently traveled to another country with an outbreak of the coronavirus, Haynes said.

Meanwhile, other organizations are working to get the word out to older adults about how to protect themselves and what to do if they suspect they or someone around them may have contracted the illness.

AARP has a national call-in town hall scheduled at 1 p.m. Tuesday featuring federal health officials to discuss the coronavirus outbreak and answer questions. Called “Coronavirus and You,” it is open to the public and people may register in advance through the AARP website or by calling 1-877-207-4934.

AARP also has an online blog on its website with information including how to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, how to prepare for a prolonged stay at home (make sure you have enough food and medicine) and whether to cancel vacations plans.

One tip: if you are planning an out-of-town trip, think about how you might feel should the coronavirus be detected at your hotel and you wind up quarantined for 14 days, the AARP site suggests.

And it links to advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for basic advice such as avoiding crowds, washing hands frequently and staying home when you are sick.

“We know that people are concerned, and we are trying to put information in our members’ hands through all of our channels,” said Scott Wegenast, communications director for AARP of Kentucky. “This is part of our mission, and it’s important that folks pay attention to what the experts are saying.”

AARP also has information on its Facebook page and Twitter account, @AARPKY.

The CDC, on its website, urges community groups, families and neighbors to check on older adults who may live alone. That also includes making sure they have enough food, medicine and other supplies they may need, such as oxygen.

Neighbors can play an important role in helping look out for older or disabled individuals, said Drew Hight, with Elderserve, a non-profit agency that provides services to older residents in the area, including help at home with cooking, cleaning and personal care.

“Check in on your neighbors,” he said. “That’s where we get a lot of our referrals. Neighbors notice someone’s not outside, and they aren’t seeing them as often.”

In Kentucky, other resources include the Department for Public Health’s COVID-19 Hotline: 1-800-722-5725.

The state also has information on the website kycovid19.ky.gov.

Reach Deborah Yetter at dyetter@courier-journal.com or 502-582-4228. Find her on Twitter at @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/subscribe

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