Westfield coping with COVID-19

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Despite early implementation of added safety protocols, the global coronavirus pandemic has spread to Westfield Quality Care in Aurora with four staff members and three residents testing positive for COVID-19.

That devastating news came as both a gut punch and reality check to staff and administrators, who have been working around the clock since the first diagnosis to offer support and take necessary precautions for those infected while also providing quality care to residents.
“We have been having daily conversations with the Department of Health and Human Services and infection control, seeking the support of everybody we can,” said Tim Groshans, the facility’s former administrator, who now works in a consulting role while his wife, Hayley, serves as administrator. “I think this is one of those times when your leadership has to be strong so you can show your employees what we need to do, educate them and give them support.”
As of Monday, Groshans reported that all employees currently on the job at Westfield have either tested negative or have been cleared by their physician to return to work. Two of the three residents who tested positive have been transferred out of the 1st Street facility and the third remains in isolation on site, based on the family’s wishes. This continues to change daily, he said, as residents develop symptoms.
“We have not lost any residents to COVID-related deaths,” Groshans said during an emotional phone interview.

Increased safety precautions
In an effort to share as much detail as possible with the community, Groshans reviewed administrative actions taken at Westfield since late March, when COVID-19 cases were first confirmed in a Washington state nursing home.
“That is when we started to put our COVID plans together,” he reported, noting that increased safety precautions were implemented at Westfield Quality Care as well as a facility he oversees in Burwell.
On April 3, however, CDHD in Grand Island confirmed that a new Westfield staff member, who was tested by a former employer, tested positive despite showing no cough, shortness of breath, or fever symptoms. Westfield provided a list of employees who might have been exposed to the staff member and Groshans said CDHD soon after notified all of them to begin an immediate 14-day quarantine.
In addition, Groshans said several other employees reported health concerns, though not necessarily those involving COVID symptoms.
“But because there was not the ability to test for COVID, they were told to quarantine for 14 days, so over the course of 48 hours I lost 26 employees in the nursing department,” he said. “Essentially, half the work force was gone in 48 hours.”
Groshans quickly contacted officials with the Nebraska Healthcare Association, Department of Health and Human Services and Central District Health Department in Grand Island.
“I expressed my concern and need to meet the needs of our residents, as well as staff,” he said.
That same day, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidelines, noting that even if there was an exposure, non-symptomatic healthcare workers were to return to work.
“Obviously there was still a lot of fear and concern, so that did not help,” he said.
Timely testing for COVID-19 was part of the concern, Groshans said, as it has reportedly been all across the country. He shared those concerns with CDHD Director Teresa Anderson, who shared them with Gov. Pete Ricketts, and the following day National Guard employees were helping provide COVID-19 tests at the Nebraska State Fairgrounds in Grand Island.
“Our staff were priority staff and were contacted to be tested for COVID-19,” he said. “We got results quickly (within two days) and we were able to give our staff some reassurance. We started to get some negative tests back from that and our employees were able to come back to work.”
In an effort to find additional nursing staff, Groshans reached out to three staffing agencies, as well as other local contacts. The agencies have been unable to provide much additional help, though three people he reached directly have since come to work at Westfield.

Employee incentives
Hoping to encourage employees to return to work, Groshans said Westfield began offering an additional $5 an hour as well as a $1,000 bonus for employees who are able to fulfill their shifts during this challenging time.
“We did this as a way to encourage and take care of them,” he explained. “We’ve also gone to an alternative staffing pattern we feel is working very well and fortunately we are getting our staffing back.
“For every employee who came back and every employee I can support, both financially and emotionally, we’re going to do it,” he added. “We’re putting employees up in motel rooms if we need to if they don’t feel comfortable (going home). We are extending ourselves in any way we can. There are some people we still have to regain their confidence in us, but the teamwork .. these people are teaching me a lot.”
Additional safety measures were added since the first diagnosis, including wellness checks for all employees, who are also asked to share if they have travelled beyond a certain mile radius. Their temperatures are taken before and after each shift to check for any temperature elevation.
In terms of personal protection equipment (PPE), Groshans said Westfield has ample supplies necessary to keep staff and residents protected.

With the community, state, nation and world still in the midst of this global pandemic, Groshans paused to reflect on what he said has been an emotional experience for everyone involved.
“I think we all should re-circle and test our motivations a little bit,” he said, fighting back his emotions. “We say we are a caring society, but do we come together when times are tough, or do we blame and point fingers? Right now, Westfield, as well as everybody, needs support and positive energy.
“We need to make sure our employees are thanked, not say, ‘You work at Westfield? Aren’t you afraid of getting COVID?’ It should be, ‘We thank you for what you do. We are proud of what you do.’ I think we all need to readjust our motivation a little bit and recognize that if we’re going to get through this together, it’s going to be supportive ... which means you don’t go after anybody right now.
“Fear and panic doesn’t do anybody any good,” he concluded. “I recognize how much we need each other.”

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