Habersham Medical Center officials said Wednesday that universal testing of employees and residents for COVID-19 is one of the main reasons for data indicating that Habersham Home nursing facility has one of the highest concentrations of the virus in Georgia – including 10 deaths.
Reports by the Georgia Department of Community Health list Habersham Home as having 62 residents with 47 having tested positive when the National Guard did its testing on May 13.
More than half of the residents were asymptomatic at the time of the testing, HMC Vice President of Culture & Wellness Kesha Clinkscale said Wednesday.
The 10 deaths reported are one of the highest figures per capita in facilities statewide.
“While these residents were positive, their deaths cannot be directly attributed to the coronavirus as several were receiving hospice care,” Clinkscale said. “It is important to emphasize that, statistically, the Habersham Home death rate is relatively flat despite the continued threats associate with the coronavirus.”
As a part of the National Guard’s testing efforts, 41 of 89 Habersham Home employees tested positive for COVID-19. Again, over 50% of the employees were asymptomatic.
According to guidelines provided by the Georgia Department of Public Health, these employees will quarantine at home for 10 days, Clinkscale said.
“Following the testing conducted by the National Guard, HMC has been working closely with the DPH and, together, have developed a comprehensive response plan which has three key components related to staffing, facility sanitization and testing,” Clinkscale said.
Habersham Medical Center was one of the first in Georgia to test every resident and staff member of Habersham Home regardless of symptoms.
“This approach yields a more accurate impact of COVID-19 and provides an exact number of how many people are actually affected,” Clinkscale said. “We have been using a proactive and aggressive approach to this, and that is automatically going to increase the data.”
The Georgia Department of Public Health had Habersham County at 472 cases with 16 deaths Thursday afternoon. Statewide, DPH reported 40,405 positive cases with 1,754 deaths.
Visitors were barred from Habersham Home in March when cases started to escalate around the state, a policy that remains in place now.
The National Guard came to Habersham Home previously in April to sanitize and disinfect the entire facility.
“As the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, the elderly will continue to be a vulnerable population to this extremely contagious disease,” said Tyler Williams, Habersham Medical Center’s incoming CEO. “However, protecting our residents’ health and safety is our top priority and we will take every possible measure to minimize any potential exposure to the virus.”
Additionally, and in adherence to guidance provided by the American Health Care Association (AHCA), the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Habersham Home began and continues to screen employees, healthcare providers, vendors, consultants, contractors and others who provide care and services to Habersham Home residents.
“Despite every effort and safeguard put in place, transmissions of the virus began impacting both residents and staff of Habersham Home,” Clinkscale said.
Clinkscale added that HMC is also redeploying clinical staff from the hospital to cover shifts at Habersham Home as needed. Hospital leadership has also reengaged the National Guard to conduct widespread sanitizing and disinfecting of both Habersham Home East and West and will continue to aggressively and frequently test all residents and staff.
“While universal testing of all residents and staff is not being conducted at all long-term care facilities, HMC leadership stands behind this method as it is the most effective known strategy to use to determine the true impact of COVID-19. Having this data will guide the hospital’s response to the COVID-19 crisis,” Williams said.