Caring for COVID-19 patients

A Lyndale nursing home helps keep patients out of hospitals

Staff in the dedicated COVID-19 unit at Redeemer Health and Rehab Center pose for a lighthearted picture. Submitted photo

As state leaders worried in March about hospitals potentially being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, they briefly looked to facilities that could care for patients who were still contagious but no longer in need of critical care.

One Southwest Minneapolis nursing home answered the call. Redeemer Health and Rehab Center at 31st & Lyndale offered up its 17-bed transitional-care unit (TCU), which had recently been remodeled but did not yet have any residents.

Redeemer worked with the Minnesota Department of Health to ensure the unit and its staff were equipped to handle coronavirus cases, and it accepted its first COVID-19 patient on April 14.

Fifty patients passed through the unit between April 14 and Aug. 4, 90% of whom have either been deemed coronavirus free or gone 10 days without showing symptoms. As of Aug. 4, five patients had died, and nine were still living in the unit, with one more admission pending. (A staff member, believed to have contracted the virus at home, has also tested positive and is in quarantine.)

Redeemer has been careful to keep the COVID-19 unit isolated, and outside of the unit, none of Redeemer’s 100 residents have tested positive for coronavirus.

“Redeemer is very much a success story,” said Bob Dahl, CEO of Redeemer’s parent company, Cassia. “They’ve kind of answered the call.”

 Recruiting staff

Nurse manager Abby Ostenson said that when Redeemer first decided to take COVID-19 patients, staff were apprehensive and questioned why the administration would put residents at risk.

Administrator Dan Colgan said it was initially “a bit of a challenge” to recruit staff for the unit. But a number of precautions have been taken to keep patients elsewhere in the facility safe.

Staff enter the COVID unit through a separate entrance and those who work the unit are barred from entering the rest of the facility, though they are allowed to enter the main building before their shift to meet with their supervisor. They get their laundry done at the facility, so they don’t have to bring home scrubs that have been in contact with infected patients. And they closely follow guidance to wear N95 masks, face shields and gowns anytime they enter COVID-19 patients’ rooms, Ostenson said.

Ostenson said patients in the wing don’t come out of their room unless it’s for a necessary medical appointment. Meals are brought to the COVID-19 wing on carts. Patients in the wing still have physical and occupational therapy appointments, but those are held after all other residents of the building have appointments.

While some patients in the COVID-19 wing have been asymptomatic, between 30% and 50% have suffered extreme respiratory distress. Ostenson said staff in the COVID-19 wing are constantly urging residents to eat and drink and monitoring their weight, since some don’t have an appetite.

The average stay in the COVID-19 wing had been about a month, she said. Residents who are cleared to leave the wing get to go through the front door, and staff from all over the building cheer them when they leave.

She said her favorite memory has been when the facility’s first COVID-19 patient was wheeled out of Redeemer to the Kool & the Gang song “Celebration.”

“That first group will always stick with us,” she said.

She said the isolation has been hard for patients on the COVID-19 wing, who are only connected to the outside world via telephone and iPad video calls.

 ‘We feel comfortable’

Colgan said the COVID-19 unit was “running full” for the first month or two but has been taking fewer cases as more long-term facilities have become equipped to deal with coronavirus patients.

“We’re still anticipating, in talking with Hennepin Health, that there could be … a rise of cases that pop up here,” Colgan said. “We just don’t know when that could happen or how long it could go on for.”

Families were notified before Redeemer started its COVID-19 unit, and Colgan said there was a positive response. Whenever the facility admits a new COVID patient, Colgan said, he sends out letters and emails to the families.

Colgan said Redeemer has received Centers for Disease Control and MDH grants to cover the costs of extra staff.

He said he’s proud of how his staff has handled the extra pressure of coronavirus.

“Going forward, we feel comfortable in our ability to handle the cases that come to us,” he said.