Wisconsin County Balancing Safety, Nursing Shortage amid COVID-19

A shortage of nurses at Rock Haven nursing home led the county to seek help. The home has 11 open nursing positions. Some staff who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 might not be working or working limited hours.

by Ashley McCallum, The Janesville Gazette, Wis. / May 28, 2020
TNS

(TNS) — Rock County has to balance a nursing shortage at the county-run Rock Haven nursing home with concerns about contracted nurses who might work in multiple nursing homes over a short time span.

County Administrator Josh Smith said Tuesday that a contracted agency nurse was one of three Rock Haven employees who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, another staff member tested positive, but the number of ill residents remains at eight with about five test results pending, Smith said.

All staff members risk bringing the virus into the facility, not just agency nurses, Smith said. Anyone could contract the virus and bring it in while being asymptomatic, he said.

Agency nurses are expected to adhere to the same screenings and safety standards as county employees. But Smith said he and other county officials months ago recognized the danger of having agency nurses work in Rock Haven after they had worked in other facilities where they could become infected.

Smith had been under the impression that agency nurses at Rock Haven were working exclusively at Rock Haven, but he recently learned that was not the case.

Two agency nurses currently work at Rock Haven. The nurse who tested positive had been working exclusively at Rock Haven recently, but the other nurse had worked in other facilities, Smith said.

The other facilities that nurse had worked in had safety guidelines similar to the county’s, which made county staff feel comfortable keeping the nurse at Rock Haven, Smith said.

The county chose to limit its agency nurses to two as a way to prevent introducing nurses who had worked in other facilities, Smith said.

However, a shortage of nurses at Rock Haven has prompted the county to seek assistance. Smith said Rock Haven has 11 open nursing positions.

The pandemic has had an impact on staffing because some staff members who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 might not be working or working limited hours, Smith said.

Smith said he has not tracked Rock Haven staffing over time, but 11 open positions are more than he wants to see.

Staffing shortages are not new at Rock Haven. Last fall, the nursing home had 18 certified nursing assistant positions open, Smith said.

Rock Haven’s administrator is working on a contract with a staffing agency to bring in more workers if too many staff members become sick, Smith said.

That contract would mandate that workers not work in other facilities, Smith said.

Rock County now has 588 confirmed cases of the virus and 18 deaths, up two from 16 deaths Tuesday.

The county saw five new reported cases Wednesday, the smallest day-to-day uptick in cases since May 18, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.

Rock Haven is one of five Rock County nursing homes under investigation for COVID-19 concerns by the state Department of Health Services, according to an online database.

One confirmed case of the disease can trigger an investigation.

The other nursing homes are Autumn Lake Healthcare at Beloit, Evansville Manor, Green Knolls at Beloit and St. Elizabeth Nursing Home in Janesville.

Three Janesville senior care centers—Oak Park Place, Mercy Manor Transition Center and St. Elizabeth—will receive shipments of personal protective equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a news release.

The facilities are three of more than 15,000 nursing homes across the country to receive 14-day supplies of equipment in May and June, according to the release.

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©2020 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.)

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