Shirley Bigley at Sullivan County Heatlh Care

Bill Blanchard worries about his mother, Shirley Bigley, a resident of the Sullivan County Health Care nursing home. Family members cannot visit during the pandemic. Blanchard used to visit his mother through the fence.

UNITY — A part-time employee working at the Sullivan County Health Care nursing home tested positive for COVID-19, according to Ted Purdy, the facility’s administrator.

“At this point we’ve identified one person, a part-time employee, who has tested positive with no symptoms,” Purdy said.

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services is following up with the employee, who is now in isolation, and contacting that employee’s family members, Purdy said. The female employee did not display any symptoms of the respiratory illness.

The test result came after nursing home administrators tested all staff and residents, Purdy said. This is the only employee who has tested positive; no resident has tested positive, according to Purdy.

“We continue to do daily screening on residents and staff,” Purdy said.

The nursing home first tested all 130 residents on May 18 with the help of the National Guard Mobile Testing operation, according to a letter Purdy sent to family members of nursing home residents. During that round of testing, 70 members of the staff were also tested.

“We were ramping up testing because we thought it was the right thing to do, and prudent,” said Sullivan County Manager Derek Ferland.

Purdy said the remaining 150 members of the nursing home staff were tested at the mobile testing center at Claremont Middle School. The employee in question was tested there May 17, then worked at the nursing home on May 20 and 21, according to Purdy’s letter. The employee’s test result was first reported to the nursing home May 22.

“Public health has been following up, taking appropriate actions to trace and test immediate family members,” Purdy said.

Residents are being assessed twice a day for signs of COVID-19, such as a fever or respiratory symptoms, Purdy said.

Staff members are screened at the start of their shifts and Purdy said the facility may begin screening staff at the end of their shifts as well.

“I know our precautionary measures have been excellent,” Ferland said.

The majority of COVID-19 deaths in New Hampshire have occurred in nursing homes. With the expansion of the illness throughout the state, many nursing homes have restricted visitors. Now, Sullivan County is also temporarily halting window and fence visits.

Bill Blanchard used to visit his mother, Shirley Bigley, regularly. Bigley suffers from dementia, Blanchard said, and when visitors were kept out of the building he had arranged with staff to see her through the fence around the courtyard at the secure unit.

“It’s disheartening to say the least. I’m a nurse, I understand. I go in COVID rooms all the time,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard was told he could have a Zoom visit with his mother, but said she’d likely wander away from a laptop or cell phone. He thinks the nursing home can do better even with the threat of the illness.

“I just think there’s a way to allow for visits,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard worries about his mother’s care while he is cut off from her.

Purdy said there are some concerns about keeping safety measures in place with window and fence visits, but he is looking at ways to possibly bring them back if possible.

Ferland said the nursing home has been careful to keep safe the residents, who are more vulnerable than other people. The facility early on stopped using per diem nurses who work in other facilities besides Sullivan County. The county’s per diem nurses who continue to work in Unity have agreed to only work at the Sullivan County facility during the pandemic, Ferland said.

“They understood the importance of trying not to cross-contaminate the residents from different facilities,” Ferland said.

Going forward, Purdy said 10 percent of residents will be tested every 10 days, and all staff members will be tested every 10 days.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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