For the last two days, we’ve been hearing from staff members at Colonial Oaks and their families about how the nursing home is now asking its staff to continue working after receiving a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. We were also told these staff members are being offered an extra $10 per hour if they continue to work while being COVID-19 positive.
To get to the bottom of these allegations, we reached out to both the nursing home and the Grant County Health Department.
First, we received updated numbers regarding the COVID-19 outbreak at Colonial Oaks. When we spoke with them on Wednesday, we learned that the nursing home currently has 33 positive employees, with 26 of the 33 currently in quarantine, and 7 of the 33 continuing to work; 41 positive residents, 33 of which are in-house; and the facility has had a total of 7 resident deaths so far.
We spoke with Cullen Gibson, Vice President for Colonial Oaks. He confirmed what we had been hearing, saying that, yes, Colonial Oaks is asking their staff members who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to continue working, in order to help care for the COVID-19 positive residents, who have been separated from the rest of the home’s population. He also stressed they are only asking asymptomatic employees to work.
Gibson told us that the positive employees would only work with positive residents and that these employees would have access to their own break room, bathroom, and entrance, in order to prevent them from infecting healthy employees and residents.
We asked Gibson whether or not they were concerned about these positive employees spreading the virus within the community on their way to and from work, if, for instance, they would happen to stop at a gas station during their commute. Gibson responded by saying “there shouldn’t be a concern. Everyone should be practicing social distancing. The gas stations have shields up at the registers, and they shouldn’t fear our employees going to the gas station.”
Gibson also informed us that Colonial Oaks consulted with the Grant County Health Department before deciding to ask their COVID-19 positive employees to continue working.
Because of this information, we decided to reach out to the Grant County Health Department, specifically Dr. Moore, who serves as the Department’s Health Officer.
Dr. Moore confirmed that Colonial Oaks did consult with his office before taking these actions, and he said that he agreed with the nursing home’s decision.
In an ideal world, Dr. Moore expressed, these employees would be sent home to quarantine, but because the nursing home is so short-staffed, he said it makes sense to have COVID-19 positive employees working with COVID-19 positive residents. “When staffing gets to a critical point, staff who are asymptomatic are safe to work with patients who are positive.”
Dr. Moore also warned us that “this battle isn’t over, and it’s going to continue to grow.”
While we did hear from people associated with the nursing home about this issue, we were not able to get them on the record. We were told of one employee in particular who is showing visual symptoms of the virus and was still asked to continue working, but we could not get that person or their family members to go on the record.
However, we are still open to hearing from employees, to get their point-of-view on this matter, and we welcome any and all communication with them. If we receive those personal stories, we will update this article with that information.
Update, 5/1/20 at 8:00AM
Following the publication of this article on Thursday, we received a phone call from a COVID-19 positive employee from Colonial Oaks, who made it clear that the company asked her to speak with us.
This employee said that Colonial Oaks has rented out an entire floor of a local hotel as a place for their COVID-19 positive employees to stay while they continue working at the nursing home. She told us that the company is providing these employees with snacks, meals, and anything else they may need from the store, that way they don’t have to go out in the community.
We asked this COVID-19 positive employee if she is staying at this hotel, as well, and she said no, that she is still returning to her home after work.
This employee continued by saying
We look at our patients as family members. We’re filling the gap where people can’t come in and care for their people. Sometimes we are the ones giving them their last laugh or smile before God calls them home. We’re short, somebody has to take care of these people.
We tried to get confirmation from a hotel employee that these COVID-19 positive employees are staying at the hotel Colonial Oaks named, but we were not able to get an answer either way.
We also don’t know why this information was not given to us on Wednesday, when we spoke with Cullen Gibson about these employees and asked specifically about how the employees were commuting both to and from work.
If we receive any additional information, we will update this article.