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LTC Facilities in MN Urge More Help in Fight Against COVID-19

Minnesota health officials say more than 20 long-term care facilities across the state have more than 20 COVID-19 cases each. But a lot more have just one case so far. (Adobe Stock)
Minnesota health officials say more than 20 long-term care facilities across the state have more than 20 COVID-19 cases each. But a lot more have just one case so far. (Adobe Stock)
May 4, 2020

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Residents of long-term care facilities in Minnesota make up nearly 80% of the state's COVID-19 fatalities. Staff members are stepping up their fight against the pandemic, but still need key resources.

Outbreaks at some Minnesota nursing homes have caught the public's attention, including one facility in the Twin Cities where there were nearly 50 patient deaths. But state health officials say there are many centers that have largely been able to keep the virus in check.

Susan Kratzke helps oversee a group of homes in central Minnesota. She said their system recently saw its first patient infection. She noted because of their size, it's been easier to pull in protective gear for staff, but others haven't been so lucky.

"I think some of the smaller nursing homes struggle with that," Kratzke said.

She said that's why the state, vendors and fellow providers need to maintain a reliable stream of resources for long-term care facilities that are struggling right now.

And as the state ramps up overall testing for COVID-19, Kratzke said there needs to be widespread staff screening at all care facilities, even for workers not showing symptoms. Not only will it help to slow the spread of coronavirus, she said it will also help ease fears among staff members who are risking their health to care for residents.

AARP Minnesota state director Will Phillips echoed the call for more protective gear and testing.

"We really want to recognize the incredible work that the staff are doing at these facilities," Phillips said. "And, you know, the primary concern you have is making sure that we're protecting those folks."

Phillips is urging the care system to ensure all nursing homes have the technology needed to connect residents with their loved ones, given the tight restrictions placed on visitations. He said those resources are uneven across the region.

Because residents can end up spending several years at a facility, Kratzke said staff members develop close relationships with them. She said that makes it even more difficult when an outbreak ravages a nursing home.

"It makes it hard for the staff," she said. "They feel the same loss and separations that other health care workers do, but also families."

Both the state and long-term care leaders caution against pulling loved ones out of nursing homes during the pandemic, citing the specialized care these facilities provide and how hard it can be to replicate at home.

Disclosure: AARP Minnesota contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN