Pacific Hills Manor, a skilled nursing home in Morgan Hill, revealed this week that a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
And while management at the Noble Court facility said they have been following local, state and federal health guidelines for protecting their staff, some employees have privately expressed concerns that Pacific Hills Manor has not done enough to ensure adequate face coverings are available inside the nursing home.
About two weeks ago, the facility acquired 1,000 surgical masks and began distributing them to staff members at the 99-bed nursing home, according to Cindy Stein, spokeswoman for Covenant Care, the company that owns Pacific Hills Manor.
As of March 28, Pacific Hills Manor began providing face coverings to staff working in patient care areas. Stein described these as “cloth masks” rather than medical or surgical coverings.
“We have always made personal protective equipment available to our staff as appropriate to their roles according to health guidelines,” Stein said. These include guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But three employees of Pacific Hills Manor, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Times that they think the facility was slow to act in providing PPE to the employees. After seeing numerous posts—dating back to March 28—on Pacific Hills Manor’s Facebook page thanking local businesses for donating masks and other PPE, these three employees began to wonder what the facility was doing with the donated items.
The employees were also worried that the cloth masks they were initially provided, which were handmade by a community member, did not serve as adequate protection for healthcare workers who are at high risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus.
The unidentified staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 last worked at Pacific Hills Manor on April 7, reads an April 19 statement from the facility’s management. When the staff member left work that day, they were not feeling well. The employee tested positive for COVID-19 on April 8.
No other staff members or residents of Pacific Hills Manor have tested positive for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to Stein.
“We share this information because we believe it is important to everyone’s health and well-being to keep our residents, families, staff and the public fully informed,” reads the April 19 statement from Pacific Hills Manor.
Pacific Hills Manor posted the April 19 statement revealing the coronavirus case two days after the Times sent the facility’s director an email asking to confirm details about the positive COVID-19 test result. The Times had also asked about Pacific Hills Manor’s timeline and protocol for providing staff members with PPE, particularly face masks.
The Times has not been in contact with the employee who tested positive for COVID-19.
Pacific Hills Manor added on April 19 that three residents and two staff members who may have been exposed were informed about the employee who tested positive, and are being monitored for any signs or symptoms associated with the virus. None have shown any signs or symptoms as of earlier this week.
Pacific Hills residents are also monitored for any signs of respiratory illness—a common symptom of COVID-19—according to the April 19 statement. This monitoring includes checking staff members’ temperatures every day.
Furthermore, all staff, medical personnel and vendors are “clinically screened” prior to entering the facility, Stein said. This screening entails body temperature checks and the use of personal protective equipment appropriate for their duties. Visitors are prohibited during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Please know that we have followed, and will continue to follow, the guidance set forth for privacy, patient care, employee safety and efforts to help limit the spread of COVID-19 as provided by the California Department of Health, CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS),” reads Pacific Hills Manor’s statement.
Donations and guidelines
Starting in late March, Pacific Hills Manor posted numerous messages on its Facebook page thanking area businesses for donating masks and other supplies to the nursing home. Donations ranged from a few dozen N95 or surgical masks from independent small businesses in the South Bay, to hundreds of similar items from corporate donors, according to some of the donors contacted by the Times.
Stein said the donations included “a limited number of surgical masks, N95 masks, face shields and even hand sanitizer, all of which is very much appreciated.” The donated items were added to Pacific Hills Manor’s larger inventory of PPE, collected from a variety of sources including donations, private vendors and county emergency services.
Stein said the nursing home has followed all CDC and CMC guidelines on the use of masks and PPE since the coronavirus pandemic began. Those guidelines have evolved as the virus has spread more widely, and thus become increasingly strict in terms of the level of protection required among healthcare staff who are in contact with patients.
For example, on April 6, Stein said the CDC upgraded its “recommendation” of cloth masks to a “guideline,” and the Morgan Hill nursing home responded by training staff on how to use the masks and distributing more of the items to employees.
One of the anonymous employees, contacted April 22, was concerned that staff were being asked to reuse surgical masks that are now provided.
However, the CDC guidelines state that surgical masks can be safely reused under specific conditions and care. Stein said Pacific Hills Manor has trained staff on how to reuse surgical masks in accordance with CDC guidelines.
Stein added Pacific Hills Manor employs an incident commander who is on duty at the facility 24 hours a day and is authorized to provide staff with PPE.
One of the anonymous employees who contacted the Times April 9 thinks the cloth masks that were initially provided are “absolutely not” sufficient to protect against an aggressive virus like COVID-19.
“Any type of germ is going to get right through that mask,” the employee said April 9. “I’ve seen people at the grocery store using better protection than what we’ve been given.”
Another employee added on April 9 that staff “hasn’t seen any” of the PPE items donated to Pacific Hills Manor, which the employees knew about from the Facebook posts. “What’s upsetting is that with all these donations, could they have given us a mask to be protected?” said the employee, who knew at the time that one of their co-workers had just tested positive for COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on nursing homes in Santa Clara County and other communities throughout the nation. Of the 94 total COVID-19 deaths in the county as of April 22, thirty-one have been among residents and staff of long-term care facilities, according to the county public health department. A total of 357 COVID-19 cases have been reported in these facilities in Santa Clara County.