Windsor House Reports Virus Outbreaks at Four Sites

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Windsor House owner John Masternick says he is complying with Gov. Mike DeWine’s mandate for long-term care facilities to report cases of the coronavirus by reporting four of his nursing homes are battling outbreaks.

But he’s asking the state not to force readmissions of patients who have tested positive as it can result in up to 25 residents and multiple staff members being exposed and possibly in need of hospital care.

Masternick said Windsor House at Canfield, O’Brien Memorial Health Care Center, Masternick Memorial Health Care Center and St. Mary’s Alzheimer’s Center are experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease spread by coronavirus.

“Immediately following the first occurrence of COVID-19 at each facility, all residents, and their respective family members were notified concerning the outbreak and the steps that Windsor House has taken to protect all residents and staff,” Masternick said in a statement, adding that aggressive steps are being taken to stop the spread of the disease.

DeWine announced an order Monday requiring long-term care facilities to notify residents and families within 24 hours of a resident or staff member testing positive for COVID-19. 

A list of facilities will be posted on the state’s website Coronavirus.oh.gov. 

Windsor House Inc., which owns 12 nursing homes and five assisted living centers primarily in the Mahoning Valley, made the announcement before the list was publicized.

Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said during Tuesday’s press briefing she has not yet signed the order to list the nursing homes, but it will be done soon. DeWine added that lawyers are involved surrounding his order. He did not elaborate.

“Families of long-term care facilities have a right to know if individuals associated in the place where their loved one is are in fact sick,” DeWine said Monday. 

Acton advised caution when reacting to the state’s publishing of names of the long-term care centers where infections are recorded.

“It’s really hard, it’s not the fault of the nursing home. Most nursing homes are doing an outstanding job. But it is the fact that this disease is so contagious,” Acton said. “I think it’s really important when we look at this data, it’s not a blame game.”

There are 102 long-term care facilities in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Masternick said due to media requests and the governor’s mandate, he released the names of facilities, but added, “Out of respect for family and loved ones that have suffered a loss due to the COVID-19 virus, Windsor House will not be releasing the specific numbers of residents or staff impacted by COVID-19.”

While he realizes that hospitals are trying not to become overloaded with patients, the virus rapidly spreads and puts other residents and staff at risk. 

“Windsor House’s experience is that when a COVID outbreak occurs, it spreads rapidly throughout the residents and staff within a facility, and for this reason Windsor House respectfully requests that the policy makers at the state of Ohio do not force nursing homes to take active COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals in an effort to relieve hospitals from being overloaded with patients,” Masternick said. “Windsor House’s experience is that when one COVID-19 patient is received from the hospital, it results in 15 to 25 residents being transported to the hospital for treatment, and multiple staff members being admitted to hospitals for treatment.”

Similar reports have surfaced around the country that long-term care facilities were restricting the return of residents diagnosed with COVID-19, according to The Associated Press. 

“It is a question we are focusing on,” said Dr. James Kravec, chief medical officer for Mercy Health-Youngstown. “We continue to have discussions with facilities and it’s something we are working through to get patients moved. … It’s not something that’s ideal and testing is more limited than we would like.”

Kravec, also medical director of Mahoning County Public Health, said during a conference call Tuesday that using the Covelli Centre, which has been designated as a field hospital for overflow patients, is a possibility, but the site is not being used at this point. He said the site was being readied last week and officials are waiting for direction from the Ohio National Guard on the next steps.

Cassandra Valentini, community liaison for Direction Home of Eastern Ohio, said the long-term care ombudsman, who advocates for resident rights, has not heard of facilities restricting patients from returning, but if it should happen, to call the ombudsman’s office at 800 589 5826. 

“Regulations are in place for this and facilities need to be following them,” she said. “Just because you are sick doesn’t mean you can’t return to your home. That is not a reason to readmit a resident. Hearing rights must be given to a resident and the ombudsman are fierce advocates who stand up for that.”

At this point, it is unknown whether any guidelines have been given from the state or if such regulations would be temporarily relaxed during a state of emergency during the pandemic.

The large number of deaths at long-term care facilities – on Monday, The Associated Press report 3,600 nationwide – has sparked controversy around the country due to the lack of reporting, including in Ohio. DeWine said he made the policy change to help families better make decisions.

Mahoning County Public Health commissioner Ryan Tekac said the Ohio Department of Health advised all health departments not to identify facilities that had positive cases or deaths resulting from coronavirus due to confidentiality laws. 

Mahoning County has been issuing the percentage of long-term care facility residents who have died as a result of COVID-19. As of today, 54% of the 35 deaths in the county have been from senior-care centers. 

While citing confidentiality laws when it comes to disclosing COVID-19 illnesses and deaths at long-term care facilities, the state was providing that information for state prisons, as well as providing numbers of cases four deaths at Federal Correctional Institute Elkton. 

Masternick assured aggressive steps are being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 at Windsor House sites. Treatment is being provided for residents who have tested positive or are showing symptoms by working with the local health departments, Ohio Department of Health and the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention. 

He added officials are keeping close surveillance of staff and residents for flu and sickness symptoms. 

“We have asked our staff to stay at home and self-quarantine if they are feeling sick or someone in their home is ill. All staff are screened for symptoms and temperatures are taken at the start of each shift,” he said, adding that all employees have been wearing masks and other personal protective equipment while caring for residents and following strict handwashing protocols.

“These outbreaks have been extremely challenging for our staff, residents, and family members, and I would like to express my personal condolences to all family members that have lost a loved one to COVID-19,” he said. ”I would also like to thank my courageous staff for the job they are doing providing care for our residents. The entire world owes them, and their colleagues, a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.”

Pictured: Windsor House at Canfield is among the four Windsor House sites reporting residents diagnosed with COVID-19 (file photo).

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.