For long-term care facilities in Iowa, a tough decision is coming: Will they be able to keep their at-risk population safe while resuming patient visitation?
On Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced new guidelines will be released soon regarding how long-term care facilities may resume permitting visitors.
“As life gets gradually back to normal… Iowans have been asking when they will be reunited with loved ones again,” Reynolds said during a press conference.
Story County had a total of 131 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, according to the state’s coronavirus website. Three of those patients are residents at Bethany Life Center in Story City, marking the county’s first confirmed outbreak in a long-term care facility.
The facility, which includes the Households of Bethany, Cedar Place and Timberland Village, says it hasn’t allowed in-person visits since March 11. It says that since May, it has been testing all residents and staff, regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms.
“We have really stayed progressive on the course for the best practices for our community in order to mitigate the spread (of the virus),” said Rex Nelson, director of nursing for Bethany Life. “We’ve tried our best to be ahead of the guidance, testing our staff and residents voluntarily even before guidance to open up (was issued.)”
Nelson said Bethany Life received confirmation of its first case on Memorial Day weekend. Delayed by the state’s testing backlog, confirmation of the other two cases came a few days later.
“So the turnaround time (for results) was a slight barrier but I know that our partners in the lab are swamped right now,” Nelson said.
Betsy Warburton, CEO and president of Bethany Life, told the Tribune that the affected patients are being cared for in an isolation unit.
Recent Boston University research shows outbreaks in long-term care facilities have accounted for the bulk of COVID-19 cases in several states. Despite the risks, the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services said it has been coordinating with long-term care associations to develop the guidelines Reynolds promised for allowing patient visits to resume.
During the governor’s Thursday press conference, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Iowa’s public health director, said the guidelines also will cover dining practices and trips outside the facilities for residents, among other situations.
Warburton said Bethany Life Center had yet to receive the guidelines. She said it is committed to adhering to the state’s recommendations, but also to ensuring the safety of all involved.
“We are going to, by all accounts, continue to follow any of the guidelines given to us by the state or other partners such as the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” she said. “We also will do everything in this difficult and uncertain time to continue to give loved ones time together and keeping our residents and staff safe.”