CEO: 'We're Fighting A Battle' In Joplin Nursing Home Where 13 Residents Have Died From COVID-19

Jul 8, 2020

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A nursing home in Joplin, Missouri says 13 of its residents have died from COVID-19 related complications, and testing has revealed dozens more residents and staff members have the coronavirus that causes the disease.

Spring River Christian Village is the licensed nursing home battling the outbreak.  KSMU's Jennifer Moore interviewed the CEO of the parent company Wednesday.

You can listen below.

 

Jake Bell is the president and CEO of Christian Horizons, the parent company of Spring River Christian Village nursing home.

"At our Spring River campus, in the nursing home, we've had a total of 64 residents who as of [Tuesday] morning, who have contracted the virus, of which 13 have passed. In addition, 30 of our associates who work at that community have also tested positive for the coronavirus," Bell said.

How was the virus introduced to the facility?

Bell said it's not known with certainty how the coronavirus entered the facility.  

"It's hard to say, you know, how the initial detections began, although the first positive that we had was an employee of the community who became symptomatic and tested positively," Bell said.

The nature of this virus, in particular how asymptomatic infected people can spread the disease, makes it extremely challenging to trace and fight, he said.

How is the nursing home preventing further spread now?

Bell said even before its first COVID-19 positive case, the nursing home had established "red zones" for residents who were admitted from outisde, even if they were not known to have the coronavirus. 

"Once we had our first positive test among residents in the building, we expanded the red zone. And essentially at this point, 70 percent, almost 80 percent, of the building's now being triggered 'red zone.' And we are isolating the ones who have not tested positive," Bell said.

All staff and residents are equipped with PPE, he said, including masks and gowns -- but residents with advanced dementia often can't understand the rules for wearing masks, creating an additional safety challenge.

What does your nursing home need right now? 

Bell said he is asking the community to wear masks in public because multiple studies have shown mask-wearing reduced the transmission of the new coronavirus.

"That truly is the the thing that, you know, from a community level would be the most helpful. And unfortunately, in Joplin, in southwest Missouri, you know, just people aren't wearing them," Bell said.

"If you're not wearing your mask, you are contributing to this," he said.

From a federal level, he said he hopes Congress will send additional stimulus money to long-term care facilities on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19.  

What emotions are the residents feeling right now?

"There's loneliness. Depression, as they have not been able to see their family. We've seen cognitive decline. And that's really across the entire organization, not just confined to Spring River," Bell said.

He says the lack of interaction with loved ones and visitors has likely exacerbated cognitive decline in some residents.

What can other nursing homes and assisted living facilities learn from what you're going through?

"As an industry, there's been a lot of sharing as far as, you know, what are best practices. We had the learning from New York and from Detroit and from Washington," Bell said. "For providers out there, you know, in this area now, obviously, the screening is incredibly important."

In addition to rigorous infection control procedures, he said it's important to support the staff who are on the frontlines, many of whom are grieving the loss or struggles of residents they care about.

Bell said there have been instances in the Joplin area where his staff members have been refused service or been verbally berated in public places because they were identified with the facility by their clothing. He asks the Joplin community to be understanding. 

"We're fighting a battle against this disease that is unlike any other, and any home can have this happen," Bell said.