A nurse at a FutureCare senior living facility said she and other nurses were prohibited from wearing masks earlier this week to protect against COVID-19, even as some staff and residents showed symptoms of the virus.
Deborah Clarke, the nurse, said her boss at FutureCare’s Canton location threatened to fire her on Wednesday morning if she came to work with a mask on.
By the time her shift began that afternoon, however, new rules allowing masks were in place at the facility.
Clarke said one employee at Canton tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday and another is awaiting test results. She said the employee didn’t have any contact with residents, but did have contact with caregivers. There are no known cases among residents yet.
A person who answered the phone at the Canton facility said a person there had tested positive but told a reporter to contact the corporate office for more information.
Holly O’Shea, FutureCare’s corporate counsel, denied withholding protective equipment. “No, we’re certainly allowing staff to wear masks,” she said.
But she quickly hung up on a reporter and since then has not responded to efforts to reach her to ask about Clarke’s other claims about the Canton facility and a general lack of awareness of the problem at the chain’s other locations in the Baltimore area.
“We have no protocols in place, we’ve asked continuously,” Clarke said. “Are we sending [positive cases] out? What is the plan? Where is our gear? And there was no answer.”
There are 11 known cases at two other FutureCare locations in Baltimore. Four residents and two staff at its Good Samaritan location on East Belvedere Avenue and five residents at its Cold Spring Lane facility have tested positive.
A COVID-19 Preparations page on the company website describes visitor restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, includes advice on handwashing and social distancing and points visitors to the Centers for Disease Control for more information.
Clarke’s story received attention when her son, Damon Barnes, wrote about her experience on Twitter. In their telling, staff had asked management repeatedly about their plan to stem coronavirus, and they never got good answers.
“They are not prepared at all and are sitting ducks for this crisis,” Barnes wrote. “Some nurses have stopped coming to work because there is no protection being provided.”
Replying to Barnes on Twitter, Mike Ricci, spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, said health officials would coordinate with the facility. “We are aware of this and are coordinating with city health officials,” he said.
FutureCare’s O’Shea issued a statement after the five positive cases were confirmed at the Cold Spring location.
“The safety and well-being of our residents and staff at FutureCare Cold Spring is our primary concern and regular communication is occurring with the facility’s residents, families and staff,” she stated.
State to Operators: Protect Staff
Many health experts fear that nursing homes could become coronavirus hot spots in coming days or weeks.
At a nursing home in Carroll County, 77 residents and 24 staff members have tested positive for the virus. Six residents have died, according to news reports.
At a news conference yesterday, Maryland’s deputy health secretary, Fran Phillips, called on nursing home operators to protect their staff and residents.
Nursing homes are allowing asymptomatic people carrying the virus – “the sneaky virus,” as she called it – to infect older residents, Phillips said, warning the operators: “You must have personal protective equipment for your staff.”
She said Governor Hogan has issued an executive order requiring “universal masking” for those who interact with residents.
Seniors are considered at greater risk from COVID-19 than the general population, which the Trump administration says could kill 100,000 to 240,000 Americans in a best-case scenario.
Employees at FutureCare’s Canton facility are required to take a temperature check and apply hand sanitizer when they enter the building, Clarke told The Brew yesterday. Those rules were in place even during the period when masks were prohibited.
Nurses are now allowed to wear N95 masks when they are treating patients who have at least a cough.
But the N95 masks aren’t properly fitted and don’t provide the same level of protection, Clarke said. As a result, when not caring for sick residents nurses wear regular surgical masks.
Because of PPE shortages, staff have to limit the number of masks they use and must share other equipment, which they sanitize between uses.
Clarke said she thinks management has taken proactive steps in recent days because of the attention her story got on social media and because a staff member at the Canton location has the virus.
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