KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Long-term care facilities across the state are seeing a rise in positive COVID-19 patients and staff. Similar to other industries, it’s putting some strain on the already challenged staffing issues.

After several months of barely any deaths, some facilities are unfortunately losing some residents to COVID-19. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, at least 33 residents have died in East Tennessee long-term care facilities within the last month. At least 93 residents have died statewide.

To put that into perspective, at least 23,175 people are living in long-term care facilities across the state. More than 10% of those residents have recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Long-term care facilities were a priority when the COVID-19 vaccines became available, and many facility leaders said it was a game-changer.

The omicron variant has seemed to change it a little,as long-term care facilities continue to try to keep their residents healthy, while also living a full life outside of their rooms.

Brandy Manifold, Executive Director of American House of West Knoxville, said they’ve learned a lot throughout the pandemic to follow that goal.

“We were scared. Everybody was scared. We just out everybody in their rooms because we just felt that where they were safest. But, throughout the process, we’ve learned about some really great chemicals that help. Misting the community wasn’t even something that was available. We’ve learned the important of hand washing, cleaning common areas, high-touch areas and we have teams that come in to help us and educate us,” Manifold said.

American House of West Knoxville has had at least six positive residents, four positive staff and two COVID-19 resident deaths. They have about 70 residents.

She said they’ve gotten smarter to keep residents out of isolation.

While they continue with activities and visitation during the numerous COVID-19 variants popping up, omicron has made scheduling those activities a little more difficult, although not impossible.

They use guidance from the Knox County Health Department the and state health department for moving forward based on the amount of positive staff and residents they have.

“We might have to do the same activity multiple times throughout the day to get everyone to engage in that activity. A lot of times we have to shorten the group size or shorten the duration,” Manifold said.

Like many other industries and other facilities, omicron has already created staffing challenges at American House of West Knoxville. Manifold said they’ve learned how to cope while continuing care for the residents.

“So, the transmission rate is higher, and we peaked quicker, right? It was like everybody had it at one time. So, allowing our staff the time to rest and recover, and allowing us time to make sure they’re healthy and they’re not bringing it into work,” Manifold said.

“We really have had to adjust our schedule and we’re using an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, so a lot of our staff members are cross-trained so that they’re able to fill all of the positions in the building,” Manifold added.

Outside of continuing activities, Manifold residents are also able to enjoy visitors still.

She said they are careful. They screen families and they’ve created spaces that are easier to clean in between visits. Staff also don’t visit with the families as often anymore, trying to reduce contact between larger groups.

“Where we used to all hang out as one big family, sometimes based on the transition rate, they’re doing visitation in their apartments so, we don’t get to spend as much time with their family as we would like to,” Manifold said.

At the end of the day, she said resident families know they are doing everything they can to keep their loved ones safe and happy.

“You never ever want to lose a resident and you just want to ensure you’re doing everything you can to maintain a safe environment,” Manifold said.

Manifold said they are hiring.

American House is just one of many long-term care facilities going through short staffing right now.

Similar to trends across the country, Willow Ridge Center is seeing an increase in COVID+ staff members despite the fact that 100% of our employees are vaccinated. The good news is that most employees are either asymptomatic or have had mild symptoms. With that said, the industry has faced healthcare worker staffing challenges dating back to before the pandemic. Willow Ridge Center is fortunate to have current employees who are willing to take on additional shifts during this challenging time, but we are hopeful for state and federal support providing short-term relief and long-term funding stabilization so that the industry can offer market and competitive wages for not only the heroes that worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic but also to attract new healthcare workers.

Lori Mayer
Spokesperson for Willow Ridge Center