Nursing home, health officials assessing contacts by COVID-19-positive visitor

Mike Still • Mar 25, 2020 at 12:15 PM

BIG STONE GAP — Staff at a Big Stone Gap nursing home are working with the LENOWISCO Health District to assess contacts by a speech therapist who came to the site March 19.

Ballad Health officials also have designated a hospital near the nursing home as the company’s regional COVID-19 quarantine and treatment facility.

Jennifer Eddy, spokesperson for Roanoke-based American Healthcare LLC, said Tuesday said that no staff or residents at Heritage Hall Big Stone Gap have been diagnosed since the therapist — an employee of a contractor — left the facility shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday.

In a letter to residents and family members, Heritage Hall administrator Dustin Jackson said the therapist had a normal temperature when leaving the facility. Jackson said the therapist had been checked under procedures in place since March 14, whereby all personnel entering and leaving the site’s buildings have their temperature taken.

Eddy said the therapist later reported symptoms appearing after the visit to Heritage Hall.

No residents or employees at any of American Healthcare’s 18 facilities have been diagnosed or were showing symptoms of COVID-19 Tuesday, Jackson said. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 tracking website — www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/ — showed no reported cases of COVID-19 in Wise County.

Two confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported Saturday in Lee County. Those cases did not involve a nursing home.

LENOWISCO Health District Director Sue Cantrell said on Tuesday that no COVID-19 cases have been reported in Wise County. Citing patient privacy concerns, Cantrell declined to discuss the Heritage Hall report. She said that the department does respond to reports of communicable diseases including COVID-19 with testing if required and by tracing contacts with a person reported to have that disease.

Eddy said the nursing home has been working with the health department to monitor staff and residents and to find anyone who may have had contact with the therapist or others exposed to the therapist.

Jackson said Heritage Hall has expanded temperature checks and safety procedures beyond health department requirements and is checking records to monitor and limit exposure to people who might have been in contact with the therapist.

“The whole nursing home industry has been taking precautions, and Heritage Hall is far ahead on this situation,” Eddy said.

In the past two weeks, Gov. Ralph Northam has issued orders including restrictions and recommendations on in-person social and family visitation at nursing homes. Jackson said those restrictions will continue.

Ballad announced Tuesday that Lonesome Pine Hospital, near Heritage Hall in Big Stone Gap, is now the company’s COVID-19 treatment and quarantine site for Wise County. According to a statement from the company, all non-COVID-19 services at Lonesome Pine including acute care, surgical and obstetric services are immediately moving to Ballad Norton Community Hospital.

Lonesome Pine’s emergency room will remain open, but surgeries and labor/delivery will be handled at Norton Community. Patients with more serious needs that cannot be treated in Wise County will be treated at Holston Valley Medical Center, Bristol Regional Medical Center or Johnson City Medical Center.

“Our teams at Lonesome Pine and Norton Community Hospital are committed to caring for our neighbors here in Wise County,” said Mark Leonard, Ballad Health vice president and CEO of Wise and Dickenson counties.

Individuals who are experiencing symptoms and believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19 are advised to call (833) 822-5523. Information about Ballad Health’s COVID-19 efforts can be found at https://www.balladhealth.org.

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