Local nursing facilities opt-in for additional COVID-19 testing

Valley Sentinel

Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) announced last week an opt-in program that would expand regular COVID-19 testing in assisted living and nursing homes in the state. Valley Sentinel reached out to facilities in the area regarding the program and how it might impact their COVID-19 response. 

Below are responses from Raeann Marten, RN, administrator at Meadows Assisted Living in Spring Green. 

Valley Sentinel: Have you or are you planning on opting-in to this program for Meadows? 

Raeann Marten: Yes, we have opted in and are planning to complete on-site testing of our staff every 2 weeks, which is the frequency allowed by the program.

VS: How does/did COVID-19 testing work for staff/residents currently/prior to this program?  

RM: Prior to the expansion we were only able to get testing supplies if we had an outbreak, which is a reactive process.  ​At that point there is risk that exposure of others may have already occurred.  An effective mitigation strategy includes regular proactive screening to identify individuals who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have worked hard to be proactive instead of reactive.  We have been working in partnership with Sauk County Public Health and the Spring Green Fire Department to have our staff included in testing at the community test site bi-weekly.  They have been very supportive.   

VS: Have you/do you offer on-site testing for staff/residents?  

RM: ​We had only been able to offer on-site testing if we already had identified a positive staff member or resident.  Sauk County Public Health and the Spring Green Fire Department have been supporting our staff testing efforts at their community test site.

VS: How would/will this program help COVID-19 care and prevention in your facility? 

RM: ​If a staff member has any COVID-like symptoms, they are immediately excluded from work and tested.  With regular screening we can identify individuals who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and also exclude those individuals from work, further decreasing the risk of exposure to our residents.  This strategy has worked effectively for us.  At this time we have not had any residents test positive for COVID.  

VS: What would this program change about current COVID-19 procedures in the facility?  

RM: It will allow us to offer the testing on-site for our staff. 

Mark Scoles, director for Greenway Manor and Greenway Terrace in Spring Green did not provide specific responses to questions, but did provide the below response regarding the program. 

Mark Scoles: We are pleased that the  State of Wisconsin will continue to support testing for skilled nursing and assisted living facilities.  Since our senior living is attached to our skilled nursing facility we have had access to testing for a number of months and have been testing all staff and residents twice weekly since early November.  Prior to November, we had been testing weekly since late summer. 

We are also pleased to report that all residents and staff electing to get the vaccine, will receive it on December 30th.  We are partnered with Walgreens and are receiving the Moderna vaccine.  It is a two part vaccine with the booster administered 28 days after the first shot.

We will continue to test as long as regulations require it and until we feel that it is no longer required to ensure the safety of our staff and residents.

Valley Sentinel asked the facilities about expectations for the newly released vaccine. Cindy Natgiv, marketing coordinator for Elderspan Management, the management company for Meadows Assisted Living in Spring Green, stated because the facility is classified as assisted living and memory care, employees and residents are not eligible for vaccination based on the Phase 1a distribution, which allows for vaccination of frontline healthcare workers, employees and residents of skilled nursing homes. 

“We are waiting patiently to hear, right now we have no concrete timeline,” said Nativ. “We are using this time to get info to staff and residents to have them make informed decisions.” 

Natigv said she estimates the facility might see the vaccine in three to four weeks. 

Mark Scoles did not respond to specific questions regarding the vaccination. 

In a recent press release, Richland County provided an update on vaccinations for skilled nursing facilities in the county. 

As Phase 1a progresses in Richland County, it was reported that long-term care facility residents and staff at Schmitt Woodland Hills and the Pine Valley Community Village were offered Moderna COVID-19 vaccines from Walgreens professionals Jan. 4.

A collaborative partnership has been established between the Richland Hospital, Richland County Health & Human Services, and Richland County Emergency Management to develop a local plan to effectively and efficiently distribute vaccinations as they become available.  This group continues to meet weekly to clarify the details of the local plan.  It is anticipated that Richland County will transition into Phase 1b within the next few weeks.