Coronavirus Concern at RI Veterans Home & other RI Nursing Homes

In a national NBC news story on nursing homes with potential outbreaks of Coronavirus either among patients or staff, reporter Laura Strickler noted that in Rhode Island a reporter had to submit a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to find out which nursing homes were involved because the state of RI refused to identify them, noting that their policy would be to identify homes with any outbreaks of multiple people, but not a home with a singular identified person – patient or staff.

Daily, Governor of RI, Gina Raimondo, holds a press conference in a room next to her office at the RI State House. She is joined by the Director of the RI Department of Health, and others pertaining to the topics to be discussed. After Raimondo delivers her report for the day, reporters get to type questions (from their homes or offices) into a computer program which feeds them to the state room. Each reporter can submit two written questions. Margie O’Brien, who hosts RI Capitol TV, will then select a few of the questions to read to the Governor for response. No reporters are present in the room to follow-up or clarify. Recently reporters have called for a more formal press conference so questions can dig deeper than the surface ones that are being asked. Some suggestions have included using Zoom or Skype, which have been declined. On Monday the Governor did announce she plans to hold a Zoom press conference – with children of RI.

Here is today’s video press conference. At approximately the 40:00 mark a question is read about a staff member at the RI Veterans Home testing positive for the coronavirus. Below the video is a transcript of the interchange:


Question reader Margie O’Brien: “An employee at the RI Veterans Home was diagnosed with Covid19 over the weekend. A spokesperson said six other employees with potential exposure were told they could work while wearing a mask and were told they should only quarantine if they show symptoms. Does this conflict or align with your messaging?”

Response by Dr. Nicole Alexandra Scott, Director of the RI Department of Health: “We want people who have been exposed to quarantine. That’s the bottom line – because it’s important to be able to monitor for symptoms – preferably at home. When you have critical infrastructure employees who are needed to help care for people in a healthcare facility or congregate setting facilities we have to approach it differently, because we need the facility to have the healthcare workforce they need to function. So, in those cases where they are not able to quarantine and self-monitor at home, we’re working very closely with the healthcare facility to monitor the staff, on a very regular, frequent basis, even during the shift while they are there, and to wear a mask so that as they’re monitoring themselves for symptoms if symptoms were to start developing on their way to then leave and go home the mask would then prevent them from spreading to any of the patients they are caring for.”

The tape goes on to talk about another nursing home with 27 residents are quarantined, the nursing staff have PPE and are just being screened and monitored for symptoms.

Several veterans who reside at the home participate in a Facebook group called “Friends of Rhode Island Veterans Home”. There has been discussion about who the staff member is, who was still interacting with patients; followed by information saying he is no longer working in that role. There is also a post by veterans hoping that the situation now warrants all of the residents to be tested, and wondering about the new Abbott 15 minute test.

Other Nursing Homes

There are over 6 people in quarantine at another nursing home who are sick with the coronavirus and 27 others on the unit are in protective isolation. This home, Oak Hill Nursing Home in Pawtucket, has a 120+ capacity. Another nursing home, Royal Crest Nursing Home in North Providence has reported cases. In Massachusetts, 11 veterans have died and 5 test positive in the Massachusetts Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.

Growth of an older population exposes its vulnerability

“The Rhode Island Statewide Planning Office projects that by 2030 the percent of persons age 65 and over will increase from 15.8% in 2014 to 23.1%. In sheer numbers this will mean almost 100,000 more persons in Rhode Island aged 65 and over.  Survey data from the Rhode Island Department of Health found the majority of older Rhode Islanders have two or more chronic diseases, and 50% of those over age 85 have some sort of physical limitation.”  In fact, Rhode Island’s older population makes it one of the state’s with the highest percentage of older people, and old-olds (those over 85).

One of the very first cases of Coronavirus spread was in a Washington nursing home, which encountered many deaths as it spread quickly through the facility. Since that time nursing homes and facilities who have elderly populations, and/or underlying medical conditions, have been seen as ground zero for special precautions.

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