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Tacoma area long-term care facilities experience first COVID-19 deaths

TACOMA, Wash.—Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has reported deaths in two care facilities—a Tacoma woman in her 90s and a Key Peninsula man in his 80s. Both had underlying conditions.

The Tacoma woman was a resident of Heartwood Extended Health Care facility. The Key Peninsula man was receiving care at Avamere Puget Sound Transitional Care facility.

Long-term care facilities serve vulnerable populations that are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Residents’ age and health status put them at greater risk for severe COVID-19 complications and potential death. COVID-19 can quickly spread in congregate care settings.

Because of these factors, the Health Department has expected high rates of cases and deaths in long-term care facilities. The Department has been working with these facilities throughout the county to ensure strong infection control guidance, availability of testing, and other measures to identify cases and minimize the spread of disease and protect these vulnerable populations. On April 2, the Department issued a health advisory about outbreaks at long-term care facilities to local healthcare providers. It included guidance for these facilities.

Prior to any positive cases, the Health Department teamed with MultiCare Health System and CHI Franciscan to ensure they could manage an outbreak within their affiliated long-term care facilities. The Health Department also worked directly with long-term care facilities unaffiliated with a healthcare system.

“We know families are worried about their loved ones,” said Director of Health, Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH. “We also know long-term care facilities want to do their best to protect their vulnerable residents. Let me assure families that our partners and we are working actively to prevent, reduce, and control infections in these facilities,” he said. “Our partnerships with long-term care facilities allowed us to be proactive with testing for residents and staff and other proactive measures. Testing is a critical public health intervention that allows us to determine appropriate next steps,” said Chen.

Heartwood Extended Health Care is a Tacoma-based skilled nursing center. Staff followed public health recommendations and began limiting visitors to the facility in early March. They were also regularly checking temperatures of patients and staff. On March 26, they reported two residents with symptoms. Washington State Department of Health and the Health Department visited Heartwood and worked with Heartwood management on an extensive facility infection control plan. Health Department nurses trained Heartwood staff on these infection control plans. Starting March 31, Health Department staff began testing all residents and staff for COVID-19. Patients and staff who test negative are kept separate from positive cases to reduce COVID-19 spread.

Avamere Puget Sound Transitional Care is a post-acute partner with MultiCare Health System. Avamere has screened staff and residents according to Health Department COVID-19 guidelines and collaborated with the Health Department and MultiCare to develop and implement COVID-19 infection control plans. They revised these plans to reflect any new guidance from the Health Department. On March 31, Avamere partnered with Multicare to test all patients and staff to identify any positive cases of COVID-19. Avamere continues to monitor residents and screen staff prior to each shift to identify and isolate any suspected cases of COVID-19.

“These unfortunate deaths are likely not to be the last within a long-term care facility. Facilities need to continue to work proactively with their local health departments to reduce COVID-19 spread,” said Doug Richardson, Chair, Pierce County Council and Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health member. “We all need to do our part to keep our community healthy. This means staying home if you’re sick, maintaining social distancing, and washing your hands. Our community is stronger when we work together.”

Find updated information about COVID-19 at www.tpchd.org/coronavirus.

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. As part of our mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment to protect public health. We are one of roughly 244 accredited health departments in the country and among six in the state to have met or exceeded the Public Health Accreditation Board’s quality standards. Learn more at www.tpchd.org.

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