Habersham Medical Center responds to DCH nursing home report

Habersham Home West

Editor’s Note: The following press release was issued by Habersham Medical Center Wednesday in response to a report from the Department of Community Health showing that 47 of its 62 nursing home residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Ten Habersham Home residents have died.

Habersham Home is the licensed, 84-bed skilled nursing facility operated by Habersham Medical Center (HMC). The facility has two locations on HMC’s campus. Habersham Home East is located inside of the hospital, and Habersham Home West is located in a separate building adjacent to the hospital.

As concerns began escalating about the coronavirus pandemic in early March, HMC was one of the first hospitals in Georgia to make swift and decisive decisions to safeguard Habersham Home residents and staff.

Through intense education, screening, monitoring, and infection prevention management, the hospital enacted a series of aggressive measures to limit exposure and transmission of COIVD-19. One of the first policies implemented was a “No Visitors” stance, meaning no outside visitors were permitted on campus to visit patients in the hospital or residents of the nursing home. This stance is still in place until further notice.

Habersham Home East is located inside Habersham Medical Center in Demorest.

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.

Before HMC confirmed its first COVID-19 positive case at Habersham Home, hospital leadership enlisted the National Guard in mid-April to sanitize and disinfect Habersham Home. This is a service the National Guard has offered to over 200 nursing homes in Georgia.

Despite every effort and safeguard put in place, transmissions of the virus began impacting both residents and staff of Habersham Home. Unlike the majority of long term care facilities in Georgia and across the country, as the number of COVID-19 positive cases began escalating, Habersham Medical Center took an aggressively, proactive approach to test every resident and staff member of Habersham Home regardless of symptoms. Habersham Medical Center was one of the first hospitals in the state to take this approach which yields a more accurate impact of COVID-19 and provides an exact number of how many people are actually affected.

Over 2,000 Georgia National Guard troops are assisting with testing and infection control at long-term care facilities statewide. (photo courtesy Georgia Health News)

HMC enlisted the National Guard to facilitate the testing that was conducted on May 13, 2020. 151 tests were administered. The test results were analyzed by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the results concluded that 47 of the 62 residents at Habersham Home tested positive for COVID-19.

More than 50% of the residents were asymptomatic at the time of the testing, meaning they did not show any symptoms of illness. Family members were notified immediately.

Throughout HMC’s response to COVID-19, ten residents who were COVID-19 positive have passed away. While these residents were positive, their deaths cannot be directly attributed to the Coronavirus as several were receiving hospice care. It is important to emphasize that, statistically, the Habersham Home death rate is relatively flat despite the continued threats associated 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.

National Guard members disinfect a public area at a nursing home in Southwest Georgia. (photo courtesy Georgia Army National Guard)

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.

To ensure Habersham Home is equipped to provide exceptional quality healthcare with the federally mandated staff-to-resident ratio, HMC will access and utilize state provided staffing resources. 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. HMC will continue to aggressively and frequently test all residents and staff.

“As the world continues to grapple with the Coronavirus Pandemic, the elderly will continue to be a vulnerable population to this extremely contagious disease,” says Tyler Williams, Habersham Medical Center’s incoming Chief Executive Officer. “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.”

“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,” says Williams.

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