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Second Douglas County Health Center resident dies of COVID-19

Second Douglas County Health Center resident dies of COVID-19

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A second resident of the Douglas County Health Center has died of COVID-19, the county said Tuesday. She was a woman in her 90s and had been hospitalized for about a week, the county said.

In addition, two more residents and five staff members at the health center have tested positive for coronavirus, said Erin Nelson, administrator of the county’s long-term care facility in Omaha.

The new cases bring the number of health center residents who have confirmed infections to 15, along with 10 staff members. The newly diagnosed staff members are stable and self-quarantining at home, Nelson said.

On Saturday, officials announced that another resident, a man in his 80s with several underlying conditions, had died of complications of COVID-19.

Nelson said the two newly diagnosed people are stable and are being isolated, each in a private room, with seven other COVID-19 patients in a unit with negative airflow and other measures to contain the virus. Four other residents are hospitalized.

“We are hopeful we have the virus contained in those two areas of the health center,” she said.

Nurses and all other staff working in the unit are wearing N95 masks and other personal protective equipment, she said, and the health center has followed quarantine guidance from experts at the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus.

“We’re using the disinfectant that does kill COVID-19,” Nelson said. ”So between housekeeping and nursing, they’re cleaning the areas and all the high touch surfaces 24 hours a day. And then just the appropriate (personal protective equipment) is probably our best defense at this time.”

Nelson said about 75 people have been tested. The health center is not testing all residents and employees because that would be effective only if done every day since the virus has a variable incubation period, she said.

All employees are screened for symptoms at the beginning of each shift, and their temperatures are taken.

All residents’ temperatures are checked three times a day, Nelson said. No visitors, volunteers or vendors are allowed in the center.

Nelson said about 230 people live at the center. It has 350 employees, about 200 of whom are nurses or certified nursing assistants, in the long-term care area.

Cheryl Phillips, a retired nurse and former union steward at the health center, said nurses have told her that they have been issued N95 masks with instructions to use them indefinitely and that they aren’t being replaced or sanitized.

Nelson said the health center “is replacing them if you’re taking care of COVID-19 patients, there’s a certain number of days, and they replace them after that. For those of us that aren’t in direct care, we can (use them) until they start to wear out.”

She said the health center is talking with UNMC about using its system of sanitizing the masks with ultraviolet light.

Phillips said the coronavirus outbreak at the health center had worsened an ongoing shortage of nursing staff. She said nurses had told her that they were frequently being required to work mandatory overtime, ending up with shifts of 16 hours and sometimes more. She said a number of nurses had left the center because of the overtime and concern for their safety.

She said some employees are having a hard time finding child care for their children, especially because of the COVID-19 threat and their long hours.

Nelson confirmed the mandatory overtime and said a few nurses have left their jobs.

“There’s definitely a fear factor out there for some of the staff,” she said. “We have these residents that we’re responsible for taking care of, so if somebody calls in and no one else is there, we do, may, have to mandate the next nurse to stay over.”

Douglas County Board member Jim Cavanaugh raised concerns about the health center Tuesday, calling it “a hot spot” for the virus in Nebraska.

“That’s concerning because the resident population is a vulnerable population, by definition, or they wouldn’t be there,” he said. “They’re largely elderly, in poor health, and not able to leave.”

County Board member Mary Ann Borgeson said it’s not accurate to call the center a hot spot, saying the health center’s leaders are doing a tremendous job trying to control the virus and “continuing our dedicated service that we always provide to these individuals.”

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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