Yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services released the names of nursing homes that have had a case of COVID-19. Thirty eight across the state are under active investigation, which means at least one resident or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past four weeks.
After that four week period, an investigation is considered closed. Eight investigations in the state are considered closed.
This comes as scrutiny on nursing homes is increasing in nearby states. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, nearly half of the COVID-19 deaths in Illinois are tied to nursing homes, and earlier this week Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said nursing homes need to be extra careful.
According to Andrea Palm, the secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the state is working to improve the conditions in affected nursing homes.
“Investigation is the term we use for when we have a suspected or positive case. It is that contact tracing, that offering of assets or resources, in this case to a long-term care facility. Now, obviously with them as a priority for us, that could include testing for all residents and staff, making sure they have the staffing resources they need to protect and serve all the residents who live there and making sure they have adequate isolation capacity within the facility,” she says.
According to Palm, the state is cooperating with nursing homes and local governments to investigate nursing homes, skilled living facilities, and outbreaks of COVID-19.
The move to publicly post the names of the nursing homes under investigation drew some criticism from health care groups. John Vander Meer, the president of the Wisconsin Health Care Association, said in a statement that many things could explain the presence of COVID-19 at a nursing home. This includes more access to testing and willingness to admit people with COVID-19. He says that’s in the past, and right now his primary concern is working with the state to address COVID-19. And the nursing homes he represents are doing everything they can.
“Long-term care facilities and skilled nursing facilities are doing everything possible to engage in effective infection control practices within their facilities. Our national association recommended to facilities around the country to limit visitation before the CDC actually offered those guidances. Our facilities in the state of Wisconsin have been proactive in engaging in transparency efforts to notify family members, residents and staff within the facilitates in addition to local public health officials and proactively notifying state regulators,” he says.
Vander Meer says that nursing homes are at risk, but they’re at risk for the same reason many other areas are at risk. He believes the medical expertise of nursing home workers makes them well-equipped to handle the problem.
“This is not just a nursing home problem, this is not just a long-term care problem, this is an everywhere problem. In any situation in which individuals congregate their is a risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. So making sure we’re doing everything possible to engage in effective social distancing practices, utilizing personal protective equipment and utilizing other effective infection control practices within facilities is really critical,” he says.
Of the 38 active nursing homes under investigation in Wisconsin, only one is in Dane County. That’s The Villa at Middleton Village, who did not return a request for comment by the time of broadcast.
In Milwaukee County, 33 long-term care facilities have been investigated. And 13 nursing home have been investigated, 12 of which are considered active.