WHITEFISH — More than 75% of residents at Whitefish Care and Rehab have tested positive for COVID-19 since late August, with COVID-19 related deaths at the facility reaching double digits.
Weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak started at Whitefish Care and Rehab, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) has directed a Plan of Correction that must be implemented immediately.
A COVID-19 Focused Control Survey at the facility was conducted by DPHHS officials on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. The survey findings showed staff members were rooming presumptive COVID-19 positive residents with COVID-19 negative residents.
Staff was entering COVID-19 positive resident rooms without proper PPE and staff at the facility was not attempting to assist with maintaining social distancing for all residents. DPHHS interviewed a staff member on Aug. 31 who could not remember the last time she had any PPE training, hand hygiene training, or training related to COVID-19.
“I think maybe I had training on hand hygiene five [to] six months ago, I don’t know. I am so tired," the staff member said. "I can’t even think, we are all working off no energy.”
On Aug. 31, a staff member was observed entering a room without donning gloves and a gown removing a food tray. No hand hygiene was performed after leaving the resident's room. “I don’t know who is on precautions honestly," the staff member said. "I never wear PPE when I go into a resident’s room because I’m not there for very long.”
An interview with a staff member in charge of surveillance showed a lack of compliance among facility staff members. “No one was complying. How do I get staff to comply with infection control?" the staff member said. "My staff is very young, and the battle is hard, it’s retention vs compliance.”
During an observation on Aug. 31, documents state that a resident was seated in a wheelchair in her room, and was talking through an open screened window with a male visitor on the outside of the window. Neither the resident nor the male visitor on the outside of the window where wearing a protective face mask.
Additionally, during an observation on Aug. 31, documents state a resident was seated in a wheelchair located near the nurse’s station wearing a mask that had fallen down off the resident’s face. A staff member told the resident to pull her mask up on her face.
The staff member stated they had tried everything to keep the resident in her room, but she had refused to stay in her room and continued to roam through the halls in her wheelchair, not properly wearing her mask. That resident had tested positive for COVID-19.
DPHHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have implemented a temporary manager at the facility who is handling day-to-day operations and working to correct identified deficiencies. If the Directed Plan of Correction outlined by DPHHS is not followed, the facility will be at risk of losing services reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid.
Documents show the first staff member at Whitefish Care and Rehab tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 12 and the first resident began displaying symptoms on Aug. 16.
Whitefish Care and Rehab administrators did not respond to MTN News's request for comment.