Short-staffed care homes in Washington state to receive help

SEATTLE (AP) — The Washington state Department of Social and Health Services will send teams of registered nurses and other health care workers to long-term care facilities across the state with staffing shortages caused by the pandemic, officials said.

Under the state department plan, six “rapid response” teams will work at assisted-living facilities, nursing homes and other long-term care providers where employees tested positive for the virus or were quarantined, The Seattle Times reported. The teams are comprised of 48 registered nurse, licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants that will go to counties with the highest virus rates: King, Pierce, Snohomish, Clark, Yakima and Spokane counties.

The state Department of Social and Health Services made the announcement Thursday after a surge of confirmed cases in long-term care facilities.

More than half of the residents and most of the staff at McKay Healthcare & Rehab in Grant County tested positive for COVID-19 in late October, leaving just three nurses, including the facility director, to care for the remaining seven residents.

“I have a hard time comprehending now that we were in such dire straits,” said Director Erica Gaertner, who later tested positive for the virus too. “My concern was that if any of the three nurses, or, heaven forbid, we all test positive, we would have no nursing staff. There was no help.”

Health officials have reported 431 long-term facilities with at least one COVID-19 infection each as of Thursday, an increase from when about 280 facilities reported cases in March and August.

“This plan helps overstressed nursing home workers who are covering for sick co-workers in the short term and that’s great and necessary,” said Adam Glickman, the secretary-treasurer of SEIU 775, which represents long-term care workers. “But we should be clear that this is a bandage to stop the bleeding, and doesn’t address the underlying problem which is ongoing dramatic underfunding of our top state’s nursing homes.”

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.