Official: Va. rehab center with outbreak faces staff shortage

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia rehabilitation facility is facing a staffing and supply shortage amid a coronavirus outbreak that has killed three patients and sickened more than a dozen patients and staff, a health official said Thursday.

The Richmond-area Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare, which treats patients recovering from injuries or illnesses including strokes, is struggling to find additional nursing staff after several workers tested positive for the virus and others had to self-quarantine, said Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico health districts.

The facility, like others nationwide, is also short on personal protective equipment at a time when it has more than 30 individuals with COVID-19 symptoms in various stages of being tested, according to Avula.

“It’s a challenging situation on every front," he said.

The facility's medical director said in a statement Wednesday that a total of 14 residents and four health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness that has sickened more than 500,000 worldwide, based on a count kept by Johns Hopkins University, crippled economies and forced restrictions on the movement of millions of people.

Avula said the three patients who died were among that total. Health officials announced the deaths of two patients Tuesday and a third Wednesday. The victims have not been identified.

Of the remaining patients, two were being treated at a hospital and nine were receiving care on-site in an isolated unit with dedicated staff, according to the statement from medical director Dr. James Wright.

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. A suburban Seattle nursing home was an early U.S. hot spot for the disease.

Canterbury has retained an industrial cleaning service to provide ongoing decontamination of the facility, including the use of hydroxyl generators capable of treating pathogens in the air and on surfaces, the statement said. It is also monitoring all residents for symptoms and conducting daily employee screenings.

The statement said the facility had already suspended admissions and visitations before its first confirmed case, which was announced Friday,

“The safety and health of Canterbury residents and staff is our primary concern,” Wright said.

Avula said the facility is actively looking through nurse staffing agencies for additional workers but having trouble finding people “because of fear and stigma.”

He said staff are working double shifts or shifts with little turnaround time before the next one.

“People are exhausted," he said.

He said Canterbury is pursuing new staffing agencies and was in talks with local health systems, which he said would deploy staffers there “as they are able.” With the number of cases of coronavirus in Virginia expected to continue to increase, health systems are also bracing for potential surges of patients.

Avula said the facility seemed to be in “pretty good shape" in terms of the availability of protective equipment for those workers in the isolation wing. But he said there was not enough equipment for every staff member dealing with patients who aren't showing symptoms at a time when health officials are seeing evidence of asymptomatic spread that is making the virus "extremely difficult to control.”

Cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in at least three other long-term care or assisted living facilities in Virginia. State epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake said at a news conference Wednesday that no other facility of that type had the same degree of spread as Canterbury.

The state health department reported Thursday that the virus has infected more than 450 people so far and killed more than a dozen.

Among the most recent victims was a Loudoun County Public Schools employee who died Wednesday night, according to a statement from Superintendent Eric Williams.