Officials: Asymptomatic staff worked with virus-positive patients

Quality Life Services at 520 Friendship St.

An employee at Quality of Life Services in New Castle has been reinfected with COVID-19, the first such person in Pennsylvania, a family member said Tuesday.

The employee, who first tested positive 90 days ago, was retested last week and came up as a positive result, family member Amanda Grissin, of New Castle, said. 

Grissin said the Department of Health called the woman Monday to notify her that she was the first reinfected person in the state.

The Health Department’s Jackson Center field office in Mercer County indicated it was conducting an investigation into the facility due to “issues and concerns” in an email obtained by The News last week. A spokesman for the Department of Health said Tuesday he could not confirm nor deny the reinfection case.

“The department is awaiting guidance and a case definition from (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on reinfected cases,” Nate Wardle, DOH press secretary said. “Until that point, we are not formally counting these cases.”

The Health Department, Wardle continued, won’t confirm or deny the case until a national case definition is announced.

“This is just mind-blowing to me on every level,” Grissin said. “You’re (QLS) putting my family at risk. Nothing is being said or done.”

QLS chief operating officer Paul McGuire said the National Guard has not taken over the facility despite rumors, but said the Health Department conducted an infection and complaint survey at the location on Tuesday. After testing positive the first time, Grissin said, her family member took off work only to be called back in to the facility’s red zone, which is designated for coronavirus-positive residents, or risk losing her job.

McGuire confirmed last week asymptomatic staff have worked “a few shifts” in the red zone due to a depleted staff. Grissin was unsure which zone — red, yellow or green — her family member was working in when she tested positive 90 days ago. The “yellow zone” is designated for residents suspected to be COVID-19-positive. The “green zone” is for those who test negative or have recovered from the virus.

After returning to work, Grissin said her family member became sick again, but QLS told her she would be retested after 90 days. McGuire said they have retested neither residents nor staff who have previously tested positive because the 90-day grace period has not been fulfilled since the first case was reported in mid-September.

McGuire said no residents or staff have tested positive again after 90 days to his knowledge. The employee is not currently working because she is “very sick” with a fever, the inability to smell or taste and has difficulty breathing, Grissin said.

Grissin alleges the facility has been reusing personal protective equipment because it is too expensive to buy more and that some staff have refused to wear face coverings because it’s their “right.”

“That’s not your right,” Grissin said. “Your right is to protect those residents. If you don’t want to wear a mask, stay your (behind) home.”

Although testing negative 90 days ago, the employee’s husband began exhibiting symptoms Monday night. The couple’s child has been staying with a relative for a month due to the heightened risk of infection. On Tuesday, QLS’s COVID-19 tracking tool reported 25 patients and seven staff who are actively infected. According to Health Department data reported Tuesday, the facility has a cumulative 91 positive patients, 48 positive staff and 14 deaths.

“These poor residents deserve at least a chance,” Grissin said. 

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

mbasileo@ncnewsonline.com

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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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