CORONAVIRUS

Four long-term care facilities in Iowa report COVID-19 cases

Cases include workers in facilities in Cedar Rapids, Kalona

Karma Martinson (middle) is pictured in a family photo with granddaughters Lizzie Martinson, 14, and Emma Martinson, 10.
Karma Martinson (middle) is pictured in a family photo with granddaughters Lizzie Martinson, 14, and Emma Martinson, 10. Martinson, 80, died Tuesday at Heritage Specialty Care in Cedar Rapids after succumbing to a respiratory illness. She had not been tested for COVID-19, but her family wonders if she had been infected especially after learning that two employees of the facility had tested positive. (Photo courtesy of Chip Martinson)

Four long-term care facilities in Iowa have reported positive test results — mostly among employees — of the novel coronavirus, a health care advocacy group announced Wednesday.

Four employees and one resident at facilities in Linn, Washington, Dubuque and Poweshiek counties have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory virus that has infected more than 100 statewide and thousands across the country.

Infection in these facilities — which could be a nursing home or assisted living facility — were confirmed Wednesday by the Iowa Health Care Association, which represents the state’s nursing facilities, assisted living, residential care, senior living communities and home health agencies.

“These cases have demonstrated that current screening processes of staff and residents are working,” said Iowa Health Care Association President and Chief Executive Officer Brent Willett. “These screening processes enabled facilities to detect these cases quickly and respond.”

During her news conference Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said state officials took “proactive steps” to prepare long-term care facilities for a potential outbreak, as their elderly residents are most vulnerable to a COVID-19 infection.

“They’ve implemented a lot of precautions,” Reynolds said. “It doesn’t mean we can completely stop it, but they really have been proactive in working with the Department of Public Health and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to make sure we can mitigate it to the best of our ability.”

In Washington County, a staff member at the Pleasantview Home retirement community in Kalona tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, March 20, officials confirmed to The Gazette this week. The individual, who contracted the virus through community spread, is not a direct patient care worker, according to a statement.

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The individual is currently self-isolating at home, and remain as such until the two week isolation period mandated by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“As we have from the beginning of the virus outbreak, we are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our residents and staff,” Pleasantview Home Executive Director Jeffrey Schmidt said in a statement.

The retirement community has increased surveillance of residents, limited staff access to a single entrance and has restricted visitors from entering the facility as a precautionary measure, the statement said.

Among those infected at Iowa-based facilities are two employees at Heritage Specialty Care in Cedar Rapids who tested positive Tuesday, officials confirmed to The Gazette.

The workers, who were not identified, had not been to the facility since Friday and Wednesday respectively. They had not been feeling symptoms while at work, said a spokesman for West Des Moines-based Care Initiatives, which owns Heritage Specialty Care.

Linn County Public Health said officials were working with the facilities about potential exposure to other staff and residents. The department would not say if it determined others were at risk, as the investigation was ongoing.

“As part of the routine contact investigation process for any reportable infectious disease, we will identify potentially exposed contacts and work with the facility follow-up on their exposure and recommended actions,” according to a statement from Linn County Public Health.

Karma Martinson was a resident at Heritage Specialty Care who died Tuesday evening after succumbing to a respiratory illness over the weekend, said her son, Chip Martinson, who lives in Milwaukee, Wis.

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She was not tested for COVID-19, but her death has left family wondering. Karma Martinson, who smoked for 65 years, had been relying on oxygen for about four or five weeks before her death, her son said.

Jason Bridie, a spokesman for Care Initiatives, could not comment on individuals in the firm’s care.

He did say there are a few residents with respiratory viral symptoms that staff were keeping an eye on, but their diagnosis has not been determined. However, Bridie pointed out that respiratory illness in a nursing home — particularly during influenza season — is not uncommon.

In light of these cases, Heritage Specialty Care has begun checking residents twice a day for their temperatures and to monitor for any signs and symptoms of COVID-19. That is in addition to other policies that have been implemented to mitigate the risk of spread, which include suspending communal dining and screening staff members before they enter the building.

If there is a resident who tests positive for the novel coronavirus, Bridie said the facility has a space where the resident can be isolated. Whether the resident needs to be hospitalized is determined by the medical providers on staff.

Martinson had nothing but praise for Heritage Specialty Care and its staff, who he said worked hard to care for Karma Martinson. Neither he nor his sister, of Bellevue, Neb., were able to be there when their mother died.

“They helped my mother die with dignity in the absence of her family,” he said.

And now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted officials to limit gatherings to 10 people, the family of Karma Martinson likely won’t have a funeral service in the coming days. Martinson said that has been difficult for them.

“You just function,” he said. “You just do the next thing and take it one hour at a time.”

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The family may hold a celebration of life in July, when Karma Martinson’s 81st birthday would have been.

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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