In an effort to slow the lethal spread of coronavirus among Oregon's nursing homes, state officials have reserved facilities in Portland and Tigard for COVID-19-positive patients only.
Laurelhurst Village Rehab on Southeast Stark Street in Portland and Pacific Health & Rehabiliation on Southwest 105th Street in Tigard have agreed to reserve 97 beds between them for the state to use.
State officials say that devoting the two skilled nursing facilities exclusively to coronavirus patients will reduce the likelihood in other nursing homes that additional residents and employees will be exposed. They are intended "to provide some relief and better management of the COVID-19 cases," said Elisa WIlliams, a spokesperson for the state Department of Human Services.
The state entered into a contract with 47-bed Laurelhurst Village Rehab on April 10, and the 50-bed Pacific Health & Rehabilitation on April 16, records show.
Segregating or "cohorting" coronavirus patients is a practice recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control, and state health care executives have been discussing the concept since last month.
Kent Emry, head of the company that owns the Tigard facility, Dakavian Management, said he reached out to DHS on his own, saying a COVID-19-only facility makes a lot of sense.
"I noticed that what was happening in most states was that the nursing home would get COVID in the facility and then they'd lock the facility down, not let anybody out," he said. "Next thing, you know, most of the population had it and large numbers (of residents) had passed away."
According to the contracts, the state will pay each facility $175 a day for care of patients, and add $1,375 a month to hold unoccupied beds. The state also will waive certain regulations, such as allowing unlicensed personnel to work at the facilities in certain roles. Under the contracts, the state also agrees to find protective equipment for staff if the facilities get close to running out, and also agrees to locate a hotel or motel for staff to stay in, if requested, Emry said.
Residents of other nursing homes around the state who are COVID-19-positive will be transferred to the facilities. Also, nursing home residents who've been treated in a hospital for COVID-19 will be discharged to one of the two facilities to recover, before being allowed to return to their normal residence, according to the state.
A representative for Avamere Health Services, which owns the Laurelhurst Village complex, sent an email noting that the coronavirus-only building "stands alone from the other buildings. Staff will not have to enter other buildings to care for (COVID-19) patients."
Emry said that Pacific had no COVID-posititive patients; in fact none of the company's five homes in Oregon do. Residents of the TIgard facility who are COVID-negative have transferred elsewhere.
He said some employees transferred to other of Dakavian's facilities or took unemployment rather than work at a COVID-only care home. He said those who stay will receive significantly higher pay. The facility has one wing sealed off for employees to stay if they wish.
"There are people in here who are really stepping up," Emry said of the workers. "You talk about heroes on the front line. These folks are amazing people who are here because they really do want to take care of these residents and help them get well."
According to the state, 27 nursing, assisted living and residential care facilities currently report to DHS that at least one resident or staff member has COVID-19. Seven adult foster homes currently report at least one confirmed case. Those figures represent a small percentage of the overall number facilities.
At least 32 nursing home residents have died, constituting a large percentage of the total deaths of 78 that the state reported as of Wednesday, April 22.
This article was originally published by Portland Tribune, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.