Officials: Asymptomatic staff worked with virus-positive patients

Quality Life Services at 520 Friendship St.

Employees at an East Side nursing home who had tested positive for COVID-19, but were asymptomatic, have worked shifts in an area of the facility designated for patients who tested positive for the virus.

Asymptotic staff have worked a "few shifts" in "extreme emergencies" in the past three weeks at Quality Life Services on Friendship Street in what is referred to as the "red zone," chief operating officer Tim McGuire said. Hiring agencies, though, have aided in filing sparse shifts so the use of COVID-positive staff have slowed down this week.

"It's not ideal," McGuire said. "It's not what we would like to do."

The 204-bed nursing home was formerly known as Golden Hill.

QLS chief executive officer Steven Tack said residents and staff are tested once a week with results coming back within a few days. If a resident is suspected to be positive, they are moved to the "yellow zone." Residents who test negative or recover from the virus stay in the "green zone." According to Tack, staff are assigned to a unit and those working in the "red zone" receive "COVID team pay." Workers compensation is available for staff.

According to "guidance," Tack said staff can return to work after symptoms have not been observed in 10 days and medication to suppress symptoms are not being used. Staff with signs or symptoms of the virus are sent home. A negative test is not required, he continued, because when someone recovers from COVID-19, they still may test positive.

McGuire estimated there have been between seven or eight deaths in the past few weeks and clarified a death gets reported to the state Department of Health if the deceased person was positive for COVID-19. Comparatively, the Health Department's data indicated between one and four total deaths on Oct. 6 for the facility and nine deaths on Tuesday.

The Health Department's Jackson Center field office in Mercer County indicated it was conducting an investigation into "issues and concerns" in an email obtained by The News. Tack indicated Wednesday he was unaware the facility was under investigation and said they are in daily communication with Health Department. 

QLS reports the number of "active" coronavirus cases — both resident and staff — via its website's COVID-19 tracking tool. According to the tracking tool, the following positive and active cases were reported:

•Oct. 2; 25 residents and 13 staff

•Oct. 7; 34 residents and 17 staff 

•Oct. 12; 27 residents and 34 staff

•Oct 14; 24 residents and 34 staff 

The state Health Department reports coronavirus data in long-term care facilities every Tuesday.

•Sept. 28; 10 residents and 13 staff

•Oct. 6; 34 residents and 21 staff

•Oct. 13; 63 residents and 35 staff

Tack said the facility reports its numbers to the Health Department correctly and is unsure why they differ. A spokesperson for the Health Department disputed that claim.

"The data shared on our website today reflects the information the facility itself reported to the Department of Health," said Maggi Mumma, DOH deputy press secretary. "The department continues to work closely with all facilities to ensure they are reporting accurately and effectively for public transparency."

mbasileo@ncnewsonline.com

Reporter

Maria Basileo covers the City of New Castle's government, Act 47 and Union and Shenango school boards. Email her at mbasileo@ncnewsonline.com.

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