NH nursing home outbreak hits staffing levels hard

Published: Nov. 9, 2020 at 5:21 PM EST
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NEWPORT, N.H. (WCAX) - COVID-19 cases are climbing in New Hampshire, including an outbreak at the Woodlawn nursing home in Newport. The outbreak has the nurses scrambling. It comes at a time cases are spiking across the region. The concern is not just for the residents who live there. But, also, having enough staff to care for them.

Amber Williams has worked at the Woodlawn nursing home for about 6 years. She usually staffs the front desk. But these days, because she is also a licensed nursing assistant, she is making rounds as well.

“The ladies that are working in there, they are working overtime, they are working hard so if I can go in and help take a little bit of the burden off them, why wouldn’t you?” Williams said.

Woodlawn lost about half of its nursing staff due to the recent outbreak. Twelve tested positive and roughly a dozen more are either unable to come to work or unwilling due to concerns of possible exposure. Forty-four elderly residents live here; 22 residents have also tested positive. Thankfully, at this point, there are no serious symptoms.

“In order to protect them and everybody else, we do more vital signs, we have to gown up before entering every room. So, we are asking our nursing staff to do a lot more with less,” Woodlawn administrator Chris Martin said.

The state has tapped into its nursing database email list to fill the gap and the facility turned to social media. It appears some progress is being made.

“I posted the Facebook post really asking for a plea for help. And between those two, we have gotten a steady stream of responses back,” Martin said.

In the meantime, caregivers like Williams continue to respond to the call.

“These people still need care, they still need compassionate care, so that is why I keep doing it,” Williams said.

It goes without saying that in-person visits have been postponed for the next several weeks. But officials at the nursing home say they are just taking things one day at a time.

In a statement, Jake Leon, the director of communications for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, said: “The Department remains in constant communication with all long term care facilities during the pandemic, especially those experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19. Long term care staffing shortages is one of the critical impacts of a COVID-19 outbreak, and a critical reason why increasing community transmission poses a major risk to long term care facilities in New Hampshire. Long term care facilities where outbreaks occurred in the spring also experienced staffing challenges, and the healthcare community stepped up to help. The Department is supporting Woodlawn and the facility is doing all it can to increase staffing levels. We continue to work on bringing in additional staffing through a contracted staffing vendor and support all efforts by Woodlawn to recruit additional contracted or volunteer staff.”

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