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Nursing Home Staffing Shortages Prompt National Guard Help

COVID-19 cases are rising across Nobles County, Minn., with the highest number showing up in individuals ages 26 to 50. A county official said celebrations and COVID fatigue are to blame for the rising number of cases.

A health-care worker in a mask speaks to an elderly person in a wheelchair who is also wearing a mask.
Oct. 31— Members of the Minnesota National Guard are currently assisting long-term care facilities in Nobles County as they deal with a rise in COVID-19 cases among both residents and staff.
Nobles County Community Health Services Administrator Michelle Ebbers would not disclose Thursday which nursing homes are being assisted. However, the Minnesota Department of Health reports active COVID-19 infections in both Crossroads Care Center and South Shore Care Center in Worthington. Ellsworth's Parkview Manor Nursing Home, which experienced an earlier outbreak of COVID-19, also was assisted by the National Guard for a time.
Ebbers said the National Guard members working within the county's long-term care facilities are trained medical personnel. In addition to filling needed roles in the absence of staff members who are sick, the Guard assisted with mass testing at long-term care centers earlier in the pandemic "just to try to get a handle on how many cases were present," Ebbers said.
The local public health department, with long-term care facilities, has developed a five-point battle plan to protect the county's most vulnerable residents, Ebbers told Nobles County commissioners during a Wednesday morning work session. In addition to receiving help from the National Guard, she said Minnesota Department of Health and regional Emergency Management staff have provided additional resources to the county.
"Once COVID has entered (a facility), it's difficult to track and make sure everyone stays safe," Ebbers said.
"All administrators, all staff are doing the very best of their abilities," she added. "They're all taking precautions and they're all doing the very best they can for their residents. I've spoken to them, and they are taking all precautions that are needed."
Meanwhile, Ebbers said COVID-19 cases are rising across the county, with the highest number of cases showing up in individuals ages 26 to 50. She said celebrations and COVID fatigue are to blame for the rising number of cases.
"People have been through this for the past seven months, and they're not paying as much attention — not being as restrictive as they once were," Ebbers told commissioners. "School has started, and people are indoors more often. I think that all plays a factor."
Ebbers said when people get a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, they should stay home and everyone in their household should stay home except to seek medical care, until they are beyond the isolation period.
"We need to stay vigilant, especially at this time when our numbers are going up," she said. "We need to be able to celebrate, but make them COVID-prevention friendly. We need to be able to keep our businesses functioning, and yet in the safest way possible.
"The more you're out, the more risk you're taking."
Nursing homes may get CARES funding
Also on Wednesday, commissioners discussed potential uses for the remaining Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security funds. The county has until Dec. 15 to distribute the federal dollars or they will need to be returned to the state.
Board Chairman Justin Ahlers said he'd like to use some of the remaining funds to help congregate care facilities.
"How do we, fair and equitably, try to get them whole?" Ahlers asked.
Deputy Nobles County Administrator Bruce Heitkamp said all three nursing homes in the county — South Shore Care Center and Crossroads Care Center in Worthington, and Parkview Manor in Ellsworth — have been impacted greatly, staffing-wise, with infections. Heitkamp said an alert was issued last week that anyone with training was asked to come and cover for staff who are sick or in quarantine.
"There's no question that when one of their staff members is positive, they need to get them out of their facility," Heitkamp said. "The residents are so vulnerable."
Commissioners Matt Widboom and Donald Linssen said they struggled to award CARES funds for staffing, with Linssen saying he'd rather the money be dedicated for supplies.
"I don't think we have enough money to make everyone whole," Widboom said. "We haven't even had the school discussion yet."
"Schools received funding on their own, though," replied Ahlers.
"They got some CARES money, but it's a long ways from the need," added Commissioner Gene Metz.
Two schools districts — Worthington and Adrian — have requested CARES funds, as have the Worthington Area YMCA and Sanford Worthington Medical Center.
Ahlers said the county needs to make sure the long-term care facilities financially recover and can continue to provide their services going forward.
"When we funded the CARES Small Business incentive, there was no guarantee those businesses will be there in a year, but we did our best," Ahlers said. "We need to do the same with congregate care."
Heitkamp said people coming from outside the area to fill in at the nursing homes has resulted in added lodging costs.
"Even when the National Guard comes, there is a cost," added County Administrator Tom Johnson. "With any of the other funds, we haven't stated what the funds are for — just to help them with COVID."
Metz said the county needs to make sure the long-term care facilities are as fully staffed as they can be — not only for the physical health of residents, but their mental health as well.
"This is our most vulnerable population," Metz said. "They can't have family visits. The staffing is so important."
As of Wednesday, Nobles County had between $800,000 and $1.1 million in CARES Act dollars that had yet to be dedicated.
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