Adult family homes throughout Spokane County, where six or fewer adults who need assistance completing daily activities live in a residential home and are visited by caregivers, will receive much-needed personal protective equipment from county health officials this week.
There are 175 adult family homes countywide that will each receive 50 masks, gloves, gowns, goggles and hand sanitizer for caregivers this week.
Paper grocery bags filled with those supplies were lined up outside the regional health district Wednesday ready for pickup.
Dorothy MacEachern, an infection preventionist with the state Department of Health, is working with Spokane health officials to coordinate a response to COVID-19 in local long-term care facilities, including adult family homes.
MacEachern said she had particular concerns about adult family homes, where it is difficult for residents to do social distancing, since they are living close together with caregivers coming in daily to prepare meals and take care of residents.
“Many of them have no PPE,” she said. “That was not something they commonly had on hand. They aren’t really medical facilities.”
PPE is vital for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care and group settings.
Some caregivers work in more than one long-term care setting, and MacEachern said the Department of Health is asking employers to have staff members who do so notify their employer. That will help employers understand staff members’ exposure if an outbreak occurs in a facility, MacEachern said.
While staff members are screened when coming to work, MacEachern said health officials are recommending masks be used at all long-term care facilities, in part due to the possibility for asymptomatic spread.
Spokane County has had only one outbreak in a long-term care facility, at the Spokane Veterans Home, but there are more than 350 long-term care facilities countywide, and MacEachern is working with health officials and facilities to ensure they are prepared and diligent to prevent future outbreaks.
She works with epidemiologists at County, and when a confirmed case is associated with a facility or adult family home, she makes the call.
MacEachern has a unique tool at her fingertips: the “drop teams” that MultiCare formed at the start of April to help long-term care facilities evaluate, triage and test residents and staff members in the event that COVID-19 has entered a facility.
The teams consist of physicians and an infection-prevention specialist who can help identify who should be tested and help facilitate a response to COVID-19 quickly. MacEachern can call the drop team when a facility wants help.
Dr. Ben Kartchner, with MultiCare, said the drop teams are a part of the collaboration between public health, Kaiser Permanente and Providence partners to ensure all local facilities have access to medical services if they need them.
“We’ve been in collaboration with all these facilities to provide blanket coverage of medical services to skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities in the area in the event that there’s an issue,” Kartchner said.
So far, MultiCare’s drop teams have been in five facilities, including the Spokane Veterans Home. They have tested 250 residents and staff members at all five facilities. MultiCare physicians said they envision continuing their work into the summer, potentially rotating other providers through.
“It’s very original and unique. I have not heard of anywhere else with a system like this being able to provide this blanket coverage,” Kartchner said at a news conference Wednesday.
Spokane County only added four new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and one death. The county now has 355 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 21 deaths.
Ten people are hospitalized with the disease, and the health district estimates about 62% of residents have recovered from the virus.
Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said he feels good about the county’s numbers but expects to see an increase in cases when the county begins to reopen.
“We will see increased cases with opening, and that’s why opening the door is a very slow process,” he said.
The county’s drive-thru testing site at the fairgrounds will close on Friday, but not permanently. National Guard staff take over operations at the testing site, which resumes operations on Monday.
Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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