More than half the staff at Habersham Home tests positive for COVID-19

Updated May 23, 2020

Habersham Home West

Habersham Home is owned and operated by Habersham Medical Center in Demorest.

Habersham Home is having to pull in lots of replacements workers after almost 60% of its staff has tested positive for COVID-19.

On May 22, the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) issued its latest long-term care facility report. That report shows 53 of Habersham Home’s 89 staff members have contracted the virus. Employees who test positive for COVID-19 are required to quarantine at home for ten days before returning to work, according to administrators at Habersham Medical Center (HMC) which owns the nursing home. To cover the staffing shortage, replacement workers are being pulled in from different areas.

“HMC is accessing and utilizing staffing resources provided by the state of Georgia. HMC is also redeploying clinical staff from the hospital to cover shifts at Habersham Home as needed,” explains HMC’s Vice-President for External Affairs Kesha Clinkscale.

The percentage of infections among residents is even worse.

All but seven of Habersham Home’s 62 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Ten of them have died, seven this month alone. Two of the three patients who died in April were on hospice care, according to Clinkscale.

Alarming statistics

While senior care home residents are among the most vulnerable – 49% of Georgia’s coronavirus-related deaths are connected to long-term care facilities – Habersham Home’s statistics are among the worst in the state. Only 28 of the 384 facilities in Georgia now included in the DCH report have had more deaths. And with 88.7% of its residents and 59.5% of its staff now testing positive, the overall number of infections at the Demorest facility is among the state’s highest.

The hospital attributes the high number of positive cases at Habersham Home to universal testing.

“What is not widely publicized is that the majority of nursing homes and long-term care facilities are not testing 100 percent of their residents and staff. Instead, they are only testing those who are symptomatic,” explains Clinkscale. She calls that approach “inaccurate and deceptive.”

More than half of Habersham Home’s residents were asymptomatic when they were tested,  meaning they showed no signs of having COVID-19 at the time. “HMC leadership stands behind this method as it is the most effective known strategy to use to determine the true impact of COVID-19,” says incoming HMC CEO Tyler Williams.

Gov. Brian Kemp says nearly 60% of all the state’s nursing home residents have been tested for COVID-19. He says the state is “laser-focused” on providing testing “to keep our most vulnerable citizens safe.”

Procedures and protocol

While recent testing by the National Guard may account for the increased number of infections being reported at Habersham Home, it does not account for how those infections occurred. The number of deaths at the nursing home has more than tripled in the past two weeks, long since the facility was closed to visitors and the state ordered stringent infection controls.

Hospital administrators say Habersham Home is following Georgia Department of Public Health guidelines aimed at mitigating the spread of the virus. However, the fact that 72% of the nursing home’s staff and residents have COVID-19 is a clear indication those guidelines aren’t working – at least not for Habersham Home.

Hospital administrators point to the stealthy nature of the virus.

“As you know, the coronavirus is a highly contagious disease. Even in the most contained environment, the virus can spread silently and rapidly, especially by those who are COVID-19 positive yet asymptomatic,” says Clinkscale.

Not everyone in the community readily accepts that explanation.

Arlyn Spresser has a 94-year-old family member at Habersham Home whose roommate died with the disease. “This is horrible and I am so angry,” she says.

Habersham Home is owned and operated by Habersham Medical Center in Demorest. Part of the nursing home facility is housed in a wing of the hospital.
Habersham Home East is located inside Habersham Medical Center in Demorest.

While Habersham Home West is located outside the hospital on HMC grounds, Habersham Home East is physically located inside the hospital. Outside and inside observers blame cross-contamination, improper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and slack protocols. The hospital denies those claims.

Julia Braswell says she’s been to Habersham Medical Center twice recently for bloodwork and “not one time have they checked my temperature.” She thought that was odd because other healthcare facilities have physically checked to make sure she wasn’t running a fever before allowing her into their facility.

Habersham Medical Center insists it’s adhering to proper protocols. Clinkscale says staff members, including administrative staff, do not work after testing positive. She says lab staff has properly performed COVID tests, and hospital and nursing home employees are trained in the proper use of PPE. She defends the facility saying, “The rapid spread of the disease is one of the primary reasons it has been categorized by the World Health Organization as a global pandemic. It is not an isolated occurrence to Habersham Home or any long-term care facility.”

Other area facilities faring much better

While it may not be an isolated occurrence, other long-term senior care facilities in North Central and Northeast Georgia are faring significantly better than Habersham Home.

There are no coronavirus-related deaths reported at Habersham Retreat or the Oaks Scenic View nursing home in Baldwin. Friendship Health and Rehab in Cleveland and the Clary Care and Wilkinson Center in Toccoa also have not reported any.

Habersham Home has the third highest numbers of deaths in North Central and Northeast Georgia outside the metro-Atlanta area.

In fact, only two other long-term care facilities in North Central and Northeast Georgia have a higher number of deaths than Habersham Home. Thirteen residents at Winder Health Care & Rehab in Barrow County have died. Eleven residents of Pruitt Health – Grandview in Athens have died and most of them passed away during the early onset of COVID-19 before or shortly after strict no visitation policies and infection controls were put into place.

Transparency

The state began issuing data on long-term facilities following weeks of harsh criticism over the lack of transparency. Now, the DCH routinely updates the Healthcare Facility Regulation (HFR) Long-Term Care Facility COVID-19 Report. 

The report includes COVID-19 activity for all licensed nursing homes, all licensed assisted living communities, and licensed personal care homes of 25 beds or more.

In the report, facilities are classified as a nursing home or a PCH (personal care home). The PCH category includes both personal care homes and assisted living communities. In Georgia, assisted living communities must have 25 beds or more. Personal care homes can have fewer than 25 beds but the COVID-19 report only includes those with 25 or more.

To view the most recent report click here. (NOTE: Now Habersham highlighted the facilities located in North Central and Northeast Georgia.) 

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This article has been updated

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