COVID-19 hits senior homes; six cases reported at Jones-Harrison

As the coronavirus continues to grow in Minnesota, senior living centers in Southwest Minneapolis are adjusting their protocols to attempt to limit exposure to vulnerable populations and trying to isolate residents who contract the virus.

Several senior living facilities in Southwest Minneapolis have confirmed COVID-19 exposures of either residents or staff, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. About 1 in 5 confirmed cases statewide have come from exposures in congregate living centers. The elderly are particularly susceptible to COVID-19; the average age of the 79 Minnesotans who’ve died from the disease is 87.

The Jones-Harrison Residence in Cedar-Isles-Dean had six known cases among residents as of April 15, up from three on April 9, and one staff member who has tested positive, according to the home’s president, Annette Greely. Those residents are isolated in their living units and the residential center has established an isolation unit for any future cases. All residents are screened daily for symptoms of COVID-19.

“It is difficult to determine how it was transmitted,” said Barb Joyce, Jones-Harrison’s infection prevention specialist. “Everybody from outside the facility is a risk, including staff.”

She said she suspects it’s been transmitted through asymptomatic carriers.

None of those cases have required hospitalization at this point, Greely said. The Minnesota Department of Health has assigned a case worker to Jones-Harrison and all other senior living centers with outbreaks.

While testing for residents has been accessible, Greely said finding tests for staff members has been harder. The staff member who has tested positive is isolating at home and others who are feeling ill or have family members who are sick have also had to self-isolate. There are three Jones-Harrison staff members staying in empty rooms in the residential home to decrease the likelihood of bringing the coronavirus in from the outside.

Other Southwest Minneapolis senior living facilities with confirmed exposures include Mount Olivet home in Windom, The Villa at Bryn Mawr, Walker Methodist Health Center in East Harriet and The Waters on 50th in Fulton.

The Kenwood retirement community had yet to see any cases as of April 9, according to executive director Jennifer Volkenant. The Kenwood is doing relatively well on supplies for personal protective equipment (PPE), but Volkenant said she is worried about resupplying with rising prices and prioritization of supplies for hospitals.

Jones-Harrison is also trying to procure more PPE for its staff, Greely said.

Even senior homes without cases are dealing with another pressing issue: loneliness. At senior homes across Minneapolis and the nation, most residents have been largely isolated for their own protection. Visitors are not allowed and interactions with others and staff are restricted. Meals are consumed in rooms alone or with a spouse.

“I think the isolation is starting to take its toll on them,” Volkenant said.

There are around 150 residents at The Kenwood and only four couples. The overwhelming majority spend most of their days alone. At 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., The Kenwood encourages residents to open their doors and talk with their neighbors in the hall. The center has puzzles, movies and books for residents to share, she said.

Senior homes and community members have gotten creative to entertain their residents during the lockdown. On April 2, a Lynnhurst family performed a circus act outside Mount Olivet while residents watched from windows and cheered them on.

Jones-Harrison has put signs outside near its center encouraging neighbors walking dogs to bring their pets up to the window, Greely said.