Kaukauna nursing home experiencing COVID-19 outbreak, wants community help

Published: Aug. 28, 2020 at 6:40 PM CDT
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KAUKAUNA, Wis. (WBAY) - Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services has noted hundreds of long-term care facilities with positive COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

Those establishments, like nursing homes, often house a lot of people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

“Staff are experiencing significant trauma right now, as are our residents and their families,” said Sondra Norder, CEO of St. Paul Elder Services.

The organization, based in Kaukauna, has a number of assisted living and long-term care facilities and programs.

Norder says at their nursing home, St. Paul Home, around 19 residents and patients have COVID-19.

One resident died from the virus on Tuesday. Grief counselors were brought in the following day for staff.

“He was a beloved human being who had a family who loved them. And that family was not able to be here, we had to step in and fulfill that role as the family,” said Norder. “Yeah, [the coronavirus] has real consequences.”

Norder says the outbreak was traced back to a staff member bringing it inside the facility from the community. Their assisted living facilities in Kaukauna have not been impacted, just the nursing home.

“We have firsthand experience at this point of how quickly this virus spreads,” said Norder.

Anyone who tests positive is kept in the organization’s COVID-19 isolation unit.

Staff are tested weekly and any resident that shows symptoms is tested immediately and is kept isolated until results are returned.

They are also in contact with the DHS, getting guidance and assistance on a regular basis. But Norder says more needs to be done.

“We cannot continue to go on as if we are not in the middle of a pandemic right now,” said Norder. “We have to have our state leaders, our federal leaders, come together in a nonpartisan way and figure out how to get this pandemic under control. Because we cannot keep doing this for a year, it is not humanly possible.”

She challenges people who believe COVID-19 is just like the flu, or a hoax, to talk to someone working in long-term care.

“We are seeing it with our own two eyes,” said Norder. “We’re seeing the devastation, we are seeing the misery that feeling that ill causes to our residents.”

There’s also concern over the gatherings happening at the nearby Horseshoe Park like baseball tournaments where some are not masking or social distancing. Norder doesn’t place blame on any particular event, but believes the more large gatherings are held, the more they will see a trickle down effect of the virus entering their facilities.

Norder, at this point, would like to see things shut down again.

“There is transmission happening in the community and the number one predictor of outbreaks in long-term care outbreaks is transmission happening in the community,” said Norder. “So we are all interconnected and I’ve said from the beginning of this pandemic it takes a village to protect nursing homes.”

She hopes more in the community will do their part.

“If people care about the lives of this nation’s moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, and veterans, we need to practice pandemic responsibility,” said Norder. “Whether that’s through a formal shut down or not, we need people to stay home, we need people to mask, we need people to practice good hand-hygiene, we need people to stay home when they are sick with any sort of symptom, we need people to get tested.”

She’s confident they will get this outbreak under control, but knows it could happen again so long as the virus is spreading in the community.

“Older adults live are not expendable, and neither are the healthcare workers who are trying desperately to protect them,” said Norder. “A lot of people want to think this is a nursing home problem, it’s not, it’s everybody’s responsibility to keep this virus from spreading in communities because that’s the only way we keep it out of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.”

St. Paul Elder Services has released information on the measures they are taking to stop the spread within the nursing home on its Facebook page. Norder says they are keeping residents and their families updated on the situation.

“They know that we are going to keep them posted on everything that’s happening here and let them know everything we’re doing to protect their loved ones,” said Norder.

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