Senior-care institutions in the Flathead Valley are implementing measures — including restricting visitors — to protect elderly residents amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Montana confirmed its first positive cases of the virus on March 13.
Older adults and people with preexisting medical conditions are at higher risk of severe complications from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Seniors represent the highest share of the global COVID-19 death toll and highest probability of death. The U.S. Surgeon General said the average age of death from coronavirus in the U.S. is 80, reflecting figures elsewhere in the world.
Kalispell Regional Healthcare (KRH) announced on March 13 that it’s restricting all visitors to the Brendan House, a skilled nursing facility.
“Like many other nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities in the state, we are taking steps to proactively protect the health and safety of some of our most vulnerable patients by instituting visitor restrictions at Brendan House,” KRH said in a statement.
KRH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Nelson said the visitation restrictions follow guidance from the CDC.
“However, we recognize the importance of regular interactions with family,” Nelson said. “To help patients and residents stay connected to their families and friends, Brendan House staff will facilitate virtual visitation using tools like FaceTime and Skype as well as phone calls and letter correspondence.”
KRH also announced that it’s expanding visitor restrictions at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, The HealthCenter and North Valley Hospital to “protect the health and safety of our patients, families and staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Visitors are now limited to one designated family member per patient, and access is restricted to one entry point in each facility.
“The restrictions are intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19 at KRH hospitals and the communities we serve,” the hospital stated.
The Springs Living, which operates 17 assisted-living “communities” across Oregon and Montana, including The Springs at Whitefish, is limiting access only to essential visitors, who are screened. The Springs is also screening staff after every shift change, offering extra paid sick leave for staff if needed and establishing a task force available 24/7 to respond to situations.
“We’re here with you and we’ll do everything we can to keep COVID-19 out of our communities,” Fee Stubblefield, founder and CEO of The Springs Living, said in a video statement, noting that none of The Springs’ communities have a confirmed case of coronavirus.
For seniors who live independently, health officials recommend strict adherence to recommended preventative measures, including washing hands thoroughly and frequently, covering coughs, not touching their faces, staying home if sick and avoiding large gatherings and close contact with people who may be ill.
Health officials say in general it’s best for elderly residents to stay home.
The Flathead City-County Health Department has established a website dedicated to COVID-19 at flatheadhealth.org/novel-coronavirus-covid-19 in addition to an automated public information line at (406) 751-8188. The state also has a website at covid19.mt.gov.