‘People Are Exhausted': Virginia Rehab Center With Outbreak Faces Staff Shortage

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A Virginia long-term rehabilitation facility is facing a staffing and supply shortage amid a coronavirus outbreak that has killed four patients and sickened many other patients and staff, a health official said Thursday.

The Richmond-area Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, which treats mostly elderly patients recovering from injuries or illnesses including strokes, is struggling to find additional nursing staff after several workers tested positive for the virus and others had to self-quarantine, said Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico health districts.

The facility, like others nationwide, is also short on personal protective equipment at a time when it has close to 50 residents with COVID-19 symptoms who are in various stages of being tested, according to Avula.

“It’s a challenging situation on every front," he said.

Precious Turner, whose 68-year-old uncle is a resident at Canterbury, said her family is worried about his health and whether he has been tested for the virus. Her uncle suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was hit by a car as a child, is physically and mentally disabled, largely nonverbal, and uses a wheelchair. In addition, he is prone to pneumonia, adding to the family's worries that he is in a high-risk group for coronavirus.

“It's really sad that we can’t be there with him," Turner said. “It is really, really hard for my mom. She is ready to lay down her life, she is so upset about what's going on.”

“As a family member, you just feel so helpless.”

The facility's administrator, Jeremiah Davis, said in a statement Thursday that a total of 17 residents and six health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness that has sickened more than 500,000 worldwide — based on a count kept by Johns Hopkins University — crippled economies and forced restrictions on the movement of millions of people.

The statement also said a fourth resident had died. Three other deaths were announced earlier in the week.

Two patients were being treated at a hospital and 11 were receiving care on-site in an isolated unit with dedicated staff, the statement said. Additional tests were pending.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. A suburban Seattle nursing home was an early U.S. hot spot for the disease.

Canterbury has retained an industrial cleaning service to provide ongoing decontamination of the facility, including the use of hydroxyl generators capable of treating pathogens in the air and on surfaces, the facility's medical director Dr. James Wright said in a statement. It is also monitoring all residents for symptoms and conducting daily employee screenings and had already suspended admissions and visitations before its first confirmed case.

“The safety and health of Canterbury residents and staff is our primary concern,” Wright said.

Avula said the facility is actively looking through nurse staffing agencies for additional workers but having trouble finding people “because of fear and stigma.”

He said staff are working double shifts or shifts with little turnaround time before the next one.

“People are exhausted," he said.

He said Canterbury is pursuing new staffing agencies and was in talks with local health systems, which he said would deploy staffers there “as they are able.” With the number of cases of coronavirus in Virginia expected to continue to increase, health systems are also bracing for potential surges of patients.

Avula said the facility, which also has skilled nursing beds and cares for dementia patients, seemed to be in “pretty good shape" in terms of the availability of protective equipment for those workers in the isolation wing. But he said there was not enough equipment for every staff member dealing with patients who aren't showing symptoms at a time when health officials are seeing evidence of asymptomatic spread that is making the virus "extremely difficult to control.”

Cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in at least three other long-term care or assisted living facilities in Virginia. State epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake said at a news conference Wednesday that no other facility of that type had the same degree of spread as Canterbury.

The state health department reportedThursday that the virus has infected more than 450 people so far and killed more than a dozen.

Among the most recent victims was a Loudoun County Public Schools employee who died Wednesday night, according to a statement from Superintendent Eric Williams.


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