National Guard assisting in Sacred Heart COVID outbreak

Published 10:55 am Tuesday, October 13, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to impact long-term care facilities, an outbreak at Sacred Heart Care Center in Austin prompted the county to seek assistance from the Minnesota National Guard.

“COVID-19 targets the elderly, people with underlying medical conditions, and people living within close proximity to one another,” Sacred Heart Care Center Administrator Chris Schulz said in a statement released Monday. “As a result, long term care facilities, including Sacred Heart Care Center, are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks.”

According to Community Health Division Manager Pam Kellogg, the state defines an outbreak in a long-term care facility as one case.

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Kellogg said that Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik on Thursday contacted the State Emergency Operation Center for assistance. In response, the state provided Sacred Heart with five National Guardsmen, consisting of one registered nurse and four medical technicians. They will be assigned to the facility for two weeks and are working 12-hour shifts, though Kellogg said that may be adjusted as time goes on.

“Throughout this pandemic, Sacred Heart Care Center has worked closely with the Mower County Health Department, the State of Minnesota Department of Health and Mayo Clinic to provide essential services to our residents, to limit the spread of COVID-19 among our staff and residents and to help protect against spread in the community at large,” Schulz said. “We remain in close contact with family members of our residents and update our website almost daily to provide current information. We follow all recommendations from the Center for Disease Control, the Minnesota Department of Health, and our local partners in the health care industry.”

Schulz said that steps taken to curtail the spread of COVID-19 at the facility include:

  • Mandatory weekly Covid-19 testing for staff and residents;
  • Antigen testing for anyone with symptoms or who came in close contact with someone who has symptoms;
  • No inside visits to the facility;
  • Mandatory quarantine of staff members who have tested positive;
  • Required use of goggles, facemasks and other PPE by all staff within the facility;
  • Daily temperature taking of all staff members; and
  • Twice daily temperatures and oxygen stats for residents.

The residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 are isolated from the rest of the community and treated in their recovery by a designated staff team, Schulz said.

The Herald reached out to Sacred Heart Care Center and the Minnesota Department of Health to inquire about cumulative cases and current active cases at the facility, but has yet to receive a response.

Kellogg added that the county is providing staff meals on the weekends and are looking to find grief counseling for the staff. 

Kellogg indicated that other long-term care facilities within the counties are dealing with active cases.

“We do have two other facilities that are currently dealing with active cases either within their staff or residents; however, the other facilities are not in a staffing crisis,” she said.

“Moving forward, it is our intent to continue to work with the Minnesota Department of Health, our partners at Mayo Clinic and other state and local officials to ensure that SHCC continues to provide the safest possible care to our residents while protecting our staff and the community at large from the spread of this terrible respiratory disease,” Schulz said.