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COVID Outbreak at MN Nursing Home Forces National Guard Help

Sacred Heart Care Center, a 59-bed nursing home in Austin, Minn., requested National Guard assistance late last week with a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened nearly a third of its staff and about 60% of its residents.

(TNS) - The Minnesota National Guard has been called in to provide emergency staffing support at a southern Minnesota nursing home that is struggling to contain a large and deadly outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Sacred Heart Care Center, a 59-bed nursing home in downtown Austin, Minn., requested help from the National Guard late last week to help contain a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened nearly a third of its staff and about 60% of its residents. The nursing home late last month reported two dozen positive cases of the respiratory virus among its residents and staff as well as two resident deaths, according to Minnesota Department of Health records.
On Saturday, a nurse and four medical technicians with the National Guard arrived at the nursing home to provide help with resident care for up to two weeks. Mower County officials have also stepped in to help with testing and to monitor staff to ensure they are following proper infection-control protocols, such as washing hands and wearing personal protective equipment properly.
The county also is preparing to bring in counselors to help nursing home staff who are suffering from "compassion fatigue and burnout" from caring for residents during the outbreak, which began in late August, said Pam Kellogg, manager of Mower County's community health division.
"This is a very good facility, but it's unfortunate that this virus is so contagious that it's really difficult to contain once it gets in," Kellogg said. "You have staff who had no symptoms and end up coming up positive [for COVID-19] when you do serial testing."
Chris Schulz, administrator at Sacred Heart Care Center, did not immediately respond to calls and e-mails Tuesday.
In a posting on its website, the nursing home sought to allay fears, saying, "While there has been some talk about the National Guard taking over Sacred Heart and/or shutting down our community, this is not the case at all."
The emergency intervention at Sacred Heart comes amid an alarming resurgence of COVID-19 cases across the region, and amid mounting evidence that the virus is infiltrating back into Minnesota's 2,100 long-term care facilities.
Public health experts fear a repeat of the chaotic scenes this spring, when senior homes became so overwhelmed by the virus they had to move some residents to hospitals and get support staff to fill in as caregivers.
In April, about 40 residents of an assisted-living facility in Wayzata were evacuated after COVID-19 swept through the home, infecting a majority of its residents and staff members and killing two residents. At the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Brainerd, so many staff got infected with the virus in May that the facility brought in nine nurses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to stay open.
The number of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities with at least one confirmed infection in a resident or worker in the past 28 days has surged from 239 on Sept. 1 to more than 340, state health officials said Friday. Across the state, providers said they are still struggling with staffing shortages and limited supplies of personal protective equipment, including gowns and face shields.
Chris Serres • 612-673-4308
Twitter: @chrisserres
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