Nursing homes make desperate plea for coronavirus testing

  • As 46 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported at the Chateau Center nursing and rehabilitation facility in Willowbrook, four other suburban nursing homes have written a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and congressmen from the suburbs calling for more testing.

      As 46 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported at the Chateau Center nursing and rehabilitation facility in Willowbrook, four other suburban nursing homes have written a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and congressmen from the suburbs calling for more testing. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Gus Noble, president of Caledonia Senior Living.

    Gus Noble, president of Caledonia Senior Living. Courtesy of Caledonia Senior Living

 
 
Updated 3/18/2020 7:23 PM

Four suburban nursing homes are making desperate calls for widespread coronavirus testing in the wake of a spiraling outbreak in a Willowbrook facility associated with 46 new cases.

The operators of campuses in the Western suburbs have written a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the state's congressional delegation in an appeal for more COVID-19 testing kits and protective gear for senior care providers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The letter reflects growing concerns about access to testing to try to contain the rapid spread of the coronavirus devastating nursing homes in Seattle and now hitting the 150-bed Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Willowbrook.

Inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment, staff members working with symptoms and staff members working at multiple facilities helped fuel the outbreak in nine Seattle nursing homes, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released Wednesday.

The CDC report also showed how facilities were slow to recognize cases because of limited testing availability and challenges identifying people with COVID-19 based on signs and symptoms alone. At least 30 deaths have been connected to the King County nursing home at the center of the Seattle outbreak.

In Illinois, Pritzker has criticized the federal government for a testing rollout that lags behind that of other countries. Gus Noble, the president of Caledonia Senior Living in North Riverside, shares his frustration.

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"We're doing all we can to make sure COVID-19 does not come into our building in any shape or form," he said.

Noble joined the CEOs of Cantata Adult Life in Brookfield, King-Bruwaert House in Burr Ridge and Plymouth Place in La Grange Park in writing the letter to Pritzker. Collectively, their facilities have more than 750 employees and more than 1,200 senior residents.

"The best way to protect and ensure the health and safety of the people who live in long-term care, is to protect and test the people who work in long term care," they wrote in the letter. "We request that you make, as your first and highest priority, COVID-19 test kits and more PPE available to the field of senior care in Illinois as quickly as possible."

Noble said he supports the crisis response by the governor and the state public health department, but the nursing home operators "believe that there is more to be done."

"If anybody is exhibiting symptoms, I think we owe it to everyone to be able to test them and make sure we provide protection for everybody," he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Area nursing homes also have stepped up preventive measures.

As of last Sunday, Caledonia has started screening workers for fevers midway through their shifts in addition to the start of their work day.

"If anyone has been at one of the communities -- who I feel for in a very real way -- that have been impacted by positive cases of COVID-19, that's one of the questions we're now including on the screening," Noble said.

A check-in with teams Tuesday, he said, determined that "nobody has been at Willowbrook that was in our building."

The campus also is allowing only families to visit residents who are in hospice care and redesigning seating arrangements in dining rooms to ensure social distancing.

The facility is trying to help residents feel connected to their families as visitor restrictions remain in place, Noble said. That may mean setting up more video calls and secure web portals for photo and video sharing.

"We must recognize that we need to be mindful of their mental health and their emotional health," Noble said.

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