Rockingham NH County Nursing Home sees no deaths from COVID

BRENTWOOD – It was around St. Patrick’s Day last year, when the world was in shock since COVID-19 lockdown measures began, when Rockingham County Commissioner Tom Tombarello said that he was told the county nursing home had to prepare for the worst.

The Rockingham County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is expected to purchase 200 body bags and convert two offices into makeshift morgues, Tombarello said after receiving information from state officials.

At first, he said he was reluctant to accept recommendations to lock down the nursing home at 117 North Road to the residents’ family members.

“I said, ‘I don’t know if we can lock the doors, all these family members are going to call my office,” “Tombarello said. “Then we had to buy some metal shelves, and I asked what they were for, and they had to (be) to stack the bodies. So I said, ‘It’s going to happen; after seeing what was going on in Italy and that it was going to happen in Brentwood, New Hampshire. So I was horrified.

The Rockingham County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is keeping a count of COVID-free days in the central lobby of Brentwood.

In New Hampshire, the highest death toll from COVID-19 has been in long-term care facilities – more than 901 nursing home deaths out of the total of around 1,300 deaths in the State, as of July 1, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

However, not a single death was a resident of Rockingham County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, officials said.

Immediate action saved lives

While more than 6,100 nursing home residents have contracted COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in New Hampshire, only five residents of the Rockingham County nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19 , said the staff.

“When we spoke to staff initially we weren’t talking about potential deaths, we were talking about what we can do to save all lives to protect residents and staff… and make sure we are doing our best. to make sure COVID doesn’t enter the building, ”said Donna Rowe, a nurse practitioner who served as the nursing home’s interim administrator during the pandemic. “At one point I think we’ve probably had 20 different nurses, and we’re already facing a national and regional shortage, and then you have people leaving because of COVID. It was very difficult.

Quality and Risk Management Director Tammy Bishop adjusts the mask of a resident at Rockingham County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Brentwood on Thursday afternoon.

During the pandemic, the nursing home population ranged from 120 to 150 residents.

Jason Smith became director of long-term care services at the nursing home in December. He said the protocols the team put in place before his arrival paved the way for successful mitigation of the spread of infections to near zero. In fact, Rowe said, of the five residents who tested positive for COVID-19, two were false positives and were ill with another infection. The actual positive cases were residents who were asymptomatic and were discovered during routine screening during the year, Rowe said.

Keep residents connected outdoors

Still, Smith said the outbreak procedures were isolating for residents and difficult for their families with the high volume of nursing home deaths occurring in the state.

“One of the sad aspects of this is the loss of connection with families and of trying to connect with families,” Smith said. “Most of the families were really understanding and supported the decision, but finding alternative approaches to communicating with their loved ones was certainly a huge challenge. Technology has become the lifeline in making sure families have that connection.

Exeter resident Charles Lane visits his wife at the Rockingham County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Thursday morning in Brentwood.

Rowe said staff need to be creative to keep their residents engaged with their family members and the wider nursing home community.

“We started a family blog, all communication went electronic,” Rowe said. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of residents and families. They understood the difficult situation we were in and the team we had at the time was pretty amazing.

During the outbreak protocols, the nursing home was strictly closed to outside visitors, with the exception of end-of-life visits from direct family members. Tombarello said all residents he has become friends with have missed his presence around the facility.

“I still remember the day we decided to put numbers on the windows (to identify patient rooms for families outside),” Tombarello said. “I saw the family outside (front) holding a balloon, saying ‘I love you’ and throwing kisses out the window. It’s touching, I hated looking at it, and I found myself not looking at the facade of this building.

The staff go above and beyond

Smith has said both physically and emotionally that the stress caused by pandemic mitigation efforts is taking its toll on staff. During the pandemic, 37 nursing home workers have been forced to quarantine themselves with COVID-19, officials said. To add to the stress, for a period of the past year, 100% of residents and staff had to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, he said, which added to the additional critical tasks. to be performed by personnel, such as a robust contact tracing in case of a positive test.

“Anytime we had a positive case, we had to stop the admissions and shut down the community,” Smith said. “It just created so much more anxiety when the residents and the staff, you know, I have to say it had an impact on the contact with the families.”

Rita Lamb, a resident of the Rockingham County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, dances in her electric chair with Quality and Risk Management Director Tammy Bishop in the centre's atrium Thursday afternoon in Brentwood .

Although already understaffed at the start of the pandemic, Meghan Welsh, deputy director of nursing services, said everyone working in the nursing home, regardless of their position, stepped in to fill roles. essential support to help residents.

“We would have people from different departments that aren’t clinical, they would come down and they would hold the resident’s hand just to provide that emotional support (when they were swabbed),” Welsh said. “Despite the staff issues, it was really great to see everyone stepping in and filling a different role. It wasn’t “Oh, it’s not in my job description”, it was like, “This has to be done for the residents. “

“A goal behind the work”

During the darkest days of the pandemic, nursing home staff said they never lost sight of the mission to protect its residents and not let down their guard on their discipline by respecting protocols.

Rockingham County Commissioners Council Chairman Tom Tombarello speaks at a meeting at the Rockingham County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Thursday morning in Brentwood.

“No matter where I’ve been, we still think of residents as family,” said Tammy Bishop, Director of Quality and Risk Management. “I hate to say it, but it’s not a high paying job, especially for (licensed practical nurses), but they’re going to tell you, whatever the purpose behind it. They feel that there is a purpose behind the work.

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