EVANSTON, IL — The director of the nursing home that has accounted for more than half of COVID-19 deaths in Evanston claimed he had been forbidden from comprehensive testing for the new coronavirus. But according to state public health officials, there was never any such ban on testing.
Phil Hemmer, executive director of Three Crowns Park, has said facility administrators had urged public health officials to website design jacksonville FL authorize testing of asymptomatic people since mid-March.
“The trigger for this terrible disease is its ability to spread unknowingly by infected individuals who show no symptoms,” he told residents Monday. “Unfortunately, until recently testing had been limited to those with symptoms, allowing many infected individuals without symptoms to infect others.”
Last month, Hemmer said Three Crowns Park had hired a private lab to test all independent living residents, and on April 24 he announced that the facility planned to start testing all staff members — but he did not specify whether he or other administrators turned down an opportunity to test all staff members alongside residents.
“Federal and state government reversed their opposition to comprehensive testing of nursing homes,” Hemmer said in an April 28 letter to residents and their families. “This is a fundamentally key element in protecting our residents, but until last week it was prohibited.”
A representative of the Illinois Department of Public Health disputed Hemmer’s characterization.
“IDPH never prohibited comprehensive testing at nursing homes,” a spokesperson told Patch. “Previously, when both PPE and testing supplies were scarce, an individual being clinically compatible and epidemiologically-linked were sufficient for isolation and quarantine. Symptomatic staff were restricted and isolated at home and infection control and environmental cleaning measures were implemented.”
Ike Ogbo, director of Evanston’s health department, said the city followed guidelines set by state public health officials with regard to coronavirus testing at Three Crowns, but he declined to answer questions about his department’s knowledge of testing decisions at the facility.
“As a result of our appeals, the governments’s testing policy recently changed,” Hemmer said Monday in a letter notifying residents and families that 11 of the facility’s 130 staff members and an additional resident had tested positive for coronavirus. “Those who test positive are home with pay until they are cleared to return Gratefully, two staff members have recovered from the virus and returned to work.”
Hemmer said previously all staff members wear appropriate personal protective equipment when working, undergo daily monitoring for fever and other symptoms and are physically distanced from one another when possible.
Three Crowns Park officials have hired four staffing agencies, invited retired staff members to return, increased hourly pay and offered bonuses to work with residents with COVID-19, Hemmer said.
Hemmer and other Three Crowns representatives have not responded to repeated questions or interview requests, but any information they provide will be added here.
According to IDPH data released Friday, there were 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Three Crowns Park residents and staff. Six residents have died.
Among all Evanston residents, there were 409 confirmed cases and 11 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the city’s website. No information regarding how many of those people have recovered was available from the health department director or a city spokesperson.
Staff at two other Evanston nursing homes are set to go on strike Friday. Workers at Aperion Care Evanston, 1300 Oak Ave., which has reported 29 coronavirus cases and one death, and the Gove of Evanston, which has reported 21 cases and two deaths, are represented by the union SEIU Healthcare.
Nursing home workers have complained for weeks of widespread shortages of personal protective equipment, staffing shortfalls, being unable to take time off when they have symptoms, receiving inadequate training and a lack of transparency from facility operators.
In response to the threatened strike, 21 Democratic state senators sent a letter to IDPH to ask about PPE requests at the 64 unionized nursing homes set to strike. The letter’s signatories include former SEIU Healthcare organizer Sen. Ram Villivalam and Sen. Laura Fine, of Glenview, whose 9th District includes Evanston.
“When our nursing home staffs aren’t afforded adequate PPE, that puts worker and resident lives in danger,” Fine said in a statement. “PPE is scarce right now, but our frontline workers need these supplies in order to continue caring for those who need it the most.”