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Andrea Donovan learned Wednesday that the Augusta rehabilitation center where her mother lives had a confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic. Immediately, she demanded that the facility test her mother, Linda Ogren, 72, for the virus.
On Sunday, the Chelsea resident learned from news reports that nearly two-thirds of the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation’s 63 residents, along with 14 staff members, had tested positive for COVID-19.
Ogren was in the minority of residents who tested negative. But a lack of communication from the facility about residents’ safety, test results and plans for addressing the largest Maine outbreak to date in a long-term care facility have Donovan worried for her mother’s well-being.
Donovan doesn’t know if her mother has been isolated to cut down her chances of becoming infected. She doesn’t know how the facility is using a limited supply of personal protective equipment, even though she’s asked the question. And if Ogren stays in the facility, where the outbreak grew from four cases to 55 in two days, Donovan does not know if her mother can be retested.
She does know that her mother, who has COPD and congestive heart failure and has lived at the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation since the end of February, wouldn’t be able to receive the level of care she needs if she were discharged.
“At this point we have no place to bring her,” she said. “We’ve got the guilt of wanting to take her out, knowing we can’t give her the care that she needs, or letting her stay there and possibly get it and die.”
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Nancy Marcille, the Augusta center’s administrator, referred questions about the facility’s handling of the outbreak to its parent company, National Health Care Associates. A representative from that company didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday.
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities nationwide have seen coronavirus outbreaks. In February, a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, became the site of one of the first coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S. The facilities are especially vulnerable because they have large numbers of older residents who are more susceptible to complications from the respiratory virus living in close quarters.
Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, has said that the coronavirus can enter into a facility through visitors and staff members, then spread among residents and other staff. Maine nursing homes in recent weeks have restricted visitors and screened staff members for coronavirus symptoms when they report to work.
Shah said the Maine CDC hasn’t yet determined the cause of the outbreak at the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation or at the two other long-term care facilities — in Scarborough and Belfast — that have reported outbreaks.
But, he said, “we haven’t learned anything in particular about any of these facilities that has suggested to us, based on the COVID-19 outbreak only, that a different course of action should have been pursued.”
Once they have outbreaks, he said, facilities can limit the spread of the virus by housing residents who have tested positive for the virus in one wing and uninfected patients in another, and ensuring that no staff members travel between the different wings.
“Even when that strategy is adhered to faithfully, transmission can still occur,” Shah said.
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As of Monday morning, Donovan said many of her friends with parents living at the center had not been contacted with their parents’ test results.
With 14 staff members unable to work after they tested positive for the coronavirus, Donovan said she is still uncertain whether the center has the capacity to care for her mother and other residents at the facility.
“We were horrified to watch what happened at the nursing facility when Washington state had its outbreak,” Donovan said. “My heart hurt for those people that had their family members in there and couldn’t do anything for them. And now here we are in that position.”
Watch: Should you remove loved ones from care facilities during the outbreak?