BRISTOL, Tenn. — The number of positive COVID-19 cases at Christian Care Center of Bristol neared 100 on Wednesday, but the nursing home drew praise from the Sullivan County Regional Health Department and the mother of a resident with COVID-19 for its handling of the outbreak.
According to a Wednesday statement from Jennifer Skaggs, Christian Care’s executive director, 92 residents and staff at the Bristol, Tennessee nursing home have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The new total reflected a significant spike since last Friday, when the facility reported 51 total cases among staff and residents. The Friday count did not appear to include three residents who died after testing positive.
Of the 92 total positive cases reported Wednesday, 26 are employees and 66 are residents. The Tennessee Department of Health states that Christian Care Center of Bristol has 120 total residents — which means that more than half of the nursing home’s residents have tested positive.
“Currently, there are 35 residents with COVID-19 in isolation and five residents being hospitalized,” Skaggs said in the statement. “Thirteen staff members remain in quarantine.”
Three Christian Care residents who tested positive for COVID-19 died after being hospitalized. One death was reported by the Tennessee Department of Health last Friday, and two were reported during the week before that.
“We are saddened and grieve for each,” Skaggs said of the deaths.
She also said that 36 people at the facility — 23 residents and 13 staff — have fully recovered from the virus, and she expects several more of the 13 employees who are currently quarantined to be done with their self-isolation and counted as recovered later this week.
The facility’s first reported case was an employee who tested positive for COVID-19 on June 25.
Skaggs added that the nursing home continues to test residents and staff and follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, the Joint Commission and the Department of Health.
“Under the expert guidance of the facility’s medical director, Dr. Vivian Clark, Christian Care Center of Bristol continues to work closely and daily with the Sullivan County [Regional] Department of Health as well as the Department of Health including periodic onsite visits and consultation,” Skaggs added.
While personal protective equipment, or PPE, has been difficult for many health providers to get enough of, Christian Care has been “able to secure and have plenty of needed PPE to protect our staff and residents,” she said.
In addition, she said that the facility is not short-staffed, though but some employees are working longer hours to fill in for those who are quarantining.
“We are grateful to all of our 122 amazing caring staff members (heroes and angels) who give so much, including working the necessary overtime to cover for our current 13 [coworkers] who are in quarantine and continue to provide the care for our residents,” Skaggs said.
Dr. Stephen May, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department’s regional medical director, said that his department has been working with Christian Care since the day the first case was reported. He called the facility “extremely cooperative working with our emergency preparedness team.”
“We went through their isolation and containment strategies [and] we went through a testing strategy to work on getting the entire facility tested, we worked with [their] medical director on medical ramifications [of the outbreak],” May said in a Wednesday phone interview. “Anything that was asked, they have complied with.”
“And ... they had already implemented all of the safety measures required by CMS [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services],” May added.
Christian Care is far from the only Tennessee nursing home dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. On Wednesday, the Tennessee Department of Health’s website showed that 1,049 residents and 799 staff had tested positive for the virus at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other residential homes for the elderly throughout Tennessee.
“This disease is so infectious, and the other problem is [that] your population within the nursing home, by definition, is a highly vulnerable ... group of patients that can get very easily infected,” May said. “Many of them [are] immunocompromised and ... have complications [from the virus].”
It’s also an uphill battle to prevent the spread of the virus in a “closed, contained environment” like a nursing home with a high concentration of people, even with social distancing protocols in place, he said.
“It’s just very difficult once you get a big cluster like this,” May said. “It’s very challenging to try to contain it.”
About two weeks ago, Janet Wright got a call from Christian Care: Her mother, an 85-year-old resident there, tested positive for the virus.
“I think I received this phone call at 10:30 at night,” said Wright, a retired nurse who lives in Kingsport, during a Wednesday phone interview. “They called me immediately.”
Wright said that her mother was asymptomatic and has stayed asymptomatic for the past 13 days, but has still been in isolation.
“They keep their patients in isolation for 20 days before they put them out into the regular ... floors,” Wright said.
Her mother has stayed “pretty upbeat” since the diagnosis, she added. The mother and daughter talk every day — sometimes multiple times a day —and Wright said that in every conversation, she tries to lift her mother’s spirits and reassure her that she’s receiving good care.
Asked what she thought of the facility’s response to the outbreak, Wright said she had nothing but good things to say.
“I think they’re doing an admirable job with keeping up with the patients that have [COVID-19],” she said. “They’re following guidelines. They’re very protective of the patients. I receive phone calls almost daily from Dr. Clark, the medical director, with regards to my mother’s ... health. It’s ... very helpful and appreciated.”
“I can empathize with what they’re doing because I’m a nurse,” Wright added. “I know how hard they’re working. … Some of those people work very late hours in the evening to cover all the bases of what they’re trying to accomplish and control with this [COVID-19] outbreak.”