Life Care Center reports dramatic decrease in new virus cases

  • A sign expresses gratitude to employees at the Life Care Center in Hilo on Oct. 7. (KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald file photo)

Administrators at Life Care Center of Hilo are “cautiously optimistic” as the facility works to recover from an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.

Senior Executive Director Mark Mann told the Tribune-Herald on Friday that the number of new cases reported at the facility has dramatically decreased since early October.

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“Since that point, (the outbreak) really slowed down, and we’ve taken measures with our three different (isolation) zones to minimize exposure with each new case,” he said. “We’ve really drilled down and done a great job, I think, of stopping the spread.”

According to Mann, only a few new resident cases have been reported over the last week.

As of Friday, 55 residents have been diagnosed with the coronavirus since late September. Of those, 26 are at the facility, one is receiving treatment at Hilo Medical Center, and two have been discharged.

Eighteen residents have so far recovered, and Mann said by the end of the month, that number is projected to more than double.

At that point, assuming there are no new case, Life Care Center would only have a few active cases remaining, he said.

“And that is really our hope and prayer at this point.”

Fourteen of 17 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 also have recovered thus far.

Three new deaths, however, were reported by the facility this week, bringing the number of COVID-related deaths to eight.

“We’re devastated that we’ve lost people, and I don’t know how you prepare or process or deal with that,” Mann said.

However, Life Care Center is a “very large facility … and if we can contain it at this point, we would be very proud of what we have done.”

Patients and staff are tested for the virus twice a week, but if someone exhibits symptoms between tests, a rapid antigen test is conducted.

Residents continue to be screened three times a day, and staff are screened at the beginning and end of each shift, Mann said.

If a patient is positive, they’re moved into a “red zone,” where the known COVID-positive patients are, and a follow-up test is performed to confirm the results.

In May, the facility established a COVID-19 unit divided into zones based on severity: red zone for those who are COVID-positive, yellow for those under investigation, and green for those being monitored.

A red zone also was established for Life Care Center’s secure special-care units that house individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The first outbreak was not within the facility’s secure units, but at this point, Mann said cases now are largely isolated to one of the two secure units.

Asymptomatic residents and staff, however, continue to be the facility’s biggest concern.

“Our testing has really helped with that,” said Mann, who added that two-thirds of the cases at Life Care Center are asymptomatic.

A growing positivity rate within the community also is cause for concern. Mann said more community spread means there’s a higher risk of the virus being brought into the nursing home.

Life Care Center of Hilo has received from the county help with testing and additional housekeeping staff.

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii will send licensed practical nurses and registered nurses later this month to provide additional assistance and respite for the staff.

“This is a marathon, and their commitment and dedication haven’t wavered at all, (but we’d) like to give some people some rest,” Mann said.

The Hawaii Healthcare Emergency Management Coalition also has helped the facility secure personal protective equipment.

According to Mann, there were 179 residents and just over 200 employees at Life Care Center as of Friday.

New patients have not been admitted since Sept. 6.

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Prior to the outbreak, the facility averaged about 30 admissions a month.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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