Second Georgia senior care home reports coronavirus case

Family members visit a relative through the window at The Retreat at Canton after delivering a birthday balloon and a gift bag. Three residents and an employee of the home have “tested presumptively positive” for COVID-19. Residents are self-isolating in their rooms, and the home is not admitting visitors. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Family members visit a relative through the window at The Retreat at Canton after delivering a birthday balloon and a gift bag. Three residents and an employee of the home have “tested presumptively positive” for COVID-19. Residents are self-isolating in their rooms, and the home is not admitting visitors. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Residents in isolation as homes work to prevent spread of the infection

Like hundreds of large senior living facilities in Georgia, The Retreat at Canton touts the communal spirit of the assisted living home. Photos posted on its Facebook page just a week ago show residents getting manicures together, playing cards and sipping tea during an afternoon gathering that drew nearly 20 seniors around a tightly packed table.

This carefree lifestyle abruptly halted after three residents and an employee tested positive for the coronavirus in the first known cases at a senior care home in Georgia. In the flash of a test result, life was transformed at the upscale community.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

» RELATED: Georgia's first senior care coronavirus cases reported

Now, some 50 residents are living in self-isolation in their rooms. They eat alone. Group activities have been discontinued. Even carnival games are played alone.

All residents are cut off from direct physical contact with family as outside visits have been eliminated, though the staff is trying to facilitate daily phone calls, Skype sessions or FaceTime calls with loved ones. On Tuesday, a family’s birthday celebration at the facility took place at a resident’s room window. They waved to her and held up a handmade placard that said “Happy Birthday Nanny.”

A worker unlocks the door at The Retreat at Canton as a visitor holds a birthday ballon at the front entrance. A family delivered the ballon and a gift bag to a relative at the assisted living community but could not go in after an outbreak of coronavirus there. Three residents and one employee have “tested presumptively positive” for COVID-19. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
A worker unlocks the door at The Retreat at Canton as a visitor holds a birthday ballon at the front entrance. A family delivered the ballon and a gift bag to a relative at the assisted living community but could not go in after an outbreak of coronavirus there. Three residents and one employee have “tested presumptively positive” for COVID-19. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Similar scenes are unfolding across Georgia as the nursing home, assisted living and personal care home industry grapples with how to confront a virus that is particularly deadly to the elderly. A second senior care facility on Tuesday reported a positive test for the virus. PruittHealth — Grandview reported that a resident was transported to a local hospital in Athens with symptoms of COVID-19 and a presumptive positive test.

The latest case comes a day after Governor Brian Kemp and the Georgia Health Care Association issued a joint statement strongly encouraging all senior care homes in the state to restrict visitors and discontinue group activities and communal dining.

“There’s a heightened state of preparation and a heightened sense of importance that we are doing all we can to prevent the introduction of the virus into our centers,” said Tony Marshall, president/CEO of the association, which represents 90 percent of the state’s nursing homes and dozens of assisted living facilities.

Quick responses at The Retreat at Canton were aimed at preventing the kind of situation that unfolded in Seattle, where more than a dozen deaths have been linked to one nursing home.

“We know this is our most vulnerable population.” said Yolanda Hunter, vice president of quality assurance & risk management with Phoenix Senior Living, which operates the facility. “It was very important to be proactive. We knew immediately we had to protect our residents.”

» RELATED: Preparing for surge, hospitals limit visitors, reschedule surgeries

The facility management credits training and the resources of a company with 19 facilities across Georgia for helping to recognize the virus quickly.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak around the world, Hunter said, the facility on March 2 implemented staff training on recognizing symptoms. When two residents living on the same wing showed fevers on March 10, their doctors were notified and coronavirus tests were administered. When one test came back positive Thursday, the company implemented additional safety measures.

Senior executives at the company made personal phone calls to all family members at the facility, and residents and staff members were kept in the loop, Hunter said.

Testing was extended to a total of four residents and 10 staff. Tests for one employee and two additional residents came back positive.

Senior living facility staff close a window at The Retreat at Canton, where confirmed that three residents and an employee have tested “presumptively positive” for COVID-19, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. A second senior care facility, PruittHealth — Grandview, on Tuesday reported a positive test for the virus.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Senior living facility staff close a window at The Retreat at Canton, where confirmed that three residents and an employee have tested “presumptively positive” for COVID-19, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. A second senior care facility, PruittHealth — Grandview, on Tuesday reported a positive test for the virus.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The three infected residents, who have not shown symptoms of the virus, remain at the home and must stay in their rooms 24 hours a day for at least another week. When the staff provides care to the three, they must wear gowns, gloves, masks and eye ware to prevent spread of the virus.

Seven staff members are spending 14 days in self-isolation at their homes after coming into direct contact with the residents who tested positive.

Extra staff and nurses were brought in from the company’s office and other facilities.

The facility is taking guidance from the state Department of Public Health, and Hunter said they are managing the situation and hope on March 25 to move most residents out of self-isolation.

“We’re providing a lot of support, checking on their mental health,” Hunter said. “Our residents have been very understanding. They are thankful we’ve taken the precautions we’ve taken. All the protocols in place we’ve explained to them.”

» RELATED: As hospitals fight to keep up, they tell mind cases not to seek tests

» MORE: Nine doctors test positive for coronavirus, according to Gupta

Christie Buuck, whose mother-in-law lives at the facility, said the family moved her home temporarily last week out of abundance of caution. She said they had read about the nursing home in Washington state.

“It can strike any place,” she said. “We understand in an environment like that where you have close clustering of elderly people it could happen if something was introduced. It could happen here like it happened there.”

PruittHealth —Grandview said in a news release after a patient tested positive that it is closely monitoring other patients who are experiencing symptoms and has notified staff and other residents.

All new admissions at the home have ceased, the release said.

“We have escalated our internal Alert Code to Red for this facility and implemented enhanced infection control protocols,” according to a statement on the company’s website.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said the department is taking a very aggressive stance toward cases in senior care facilities. “Everyone who works at that facility, whether they’re housekeepers or health care workers, we will be testing and monitoring contacts and ensuring that we stop the spread of that virus as quickly as possible…,” she said. “You have to stop the spread in a very high-risk, vulnerable environment.”

In Other News