Oakland Grove accepting new COVID-19 patients

Oakland Grove accepting new COVID-19 patients

Staff members gathered outside Oakland Grove Health Care Center last Wednesday to celebrate the 100th birthday of Mary Byrne, a long-term resident who recently recovered from COVID-19. The facility has been designated a specialty nursing home to care for COVID-19 patients. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – Oakland Grove Health Care Center has been named a COVID-19 specialty nursing home by the Rhode Island Department of Health, a designation that means it can now receive COVID-19 patients cleared for release from hospitals across the state.

Dr. James McDonald of the RIDOH made the announcement during Gov. Gina Raimondo’s daily press briefing on Sunday, May 3. Oakland Grove is the second facility to be named a COVID-19 specialty nursing home in the state after Oak Hill Health and Rehabilitation Center in Pawtucket.

Susan LaNinfa, administrator at Oakland Grove, said Tuesday that the facility has designated its fourth floor for COVID-19 patients. Non-COVID-19 residents who were living on the fourth floor have been transferred to the second and third floors and new patients are being admitted to the fourth floor. Long-term residents who were already living on the second or third floors and have tested positive for COVID-19 have been allowed to remain there and are being tested regularly to assess their recovery.

LaNinfa said the facility is only accepting new patients if they are COVID-19 positive.

Though the decision was part of a statewide strategy to isolate and care for COVID-19 patients, some have questioned how the change was communicated to staff at Oakland Grove. One staff member who asked to remain anonymous questioned why staff were not told in a meeting that they had become a COVID-19 specialty facility. The individual, who works on the floor designated for COVID-19 patients, said many staff members were frustrated to learn about the new policy from the news media over the weekend.

“This kind of came as a surprise to be honest. It’s just posted in the elevators and on the news, but sadly there wasn’t a meeting or anything with staff about it,” the individual said.

LaNinfa said the facility did not finalize the plans with the RIDOH until late last Friday, after which they posted information in the building. Families, she said, were informed of the change by email.

The Cumberland Hill Road facility had already been hit hard by the coronavirus prior to the change. As of Tuesday, between 60 and 70 Oakland Grove residents had tested positive for the virus, and as many as 14 people with the virus had died, according to Joseph Wendelken, spokesperson for the RIDOH.

The facility, said Wendelken, expressed interest to the RIDOH in serving as a COVID-19 specialty nursing home and was selected based on its space capacity and infection control resources.

As part of the designation, Oakland Grove is receiving a daily payment from the state of approximately $8,000. The payment, said Wendelken, is intended to cover enhanced infection control measures, infection control surveillance, enhanced staffing levels, adequate PPE and other expenses.

Asked whether any provisions were made for families of non-COVID-19 residents who wished to remove their loved ones from a COVID-19 designated facility, Wendelken noted individuals may leave a nursing home at any time. LaNinfa said she’s aware of only one family that chose to remove a resident from the facility since the start of the pandemic, but several individuals have been discharged after they no longer needed skilled nursing care.

Despite the seriousness of the virus, the community has also experienced good news in recent weeks. Last Wednesday, Mary Byrne, a long-term resident who had previously tested positive for the virus, celebrated her 100th birthday while in recovery from COVID-19. The celebration included a drive-by visit from the Woonsocket Police and Fire Departments as well as special musical performance for Byrne while staff cheered from the sidewalk in front of the facility.

LaNinfa noted that staff have remained committed to caring for their residents throughout the difficulty of the past two months.

“Despite what they may fear or the dangers involved, I think they’ve all stepped up to take care of the patients who are vulnerable and they know need them,” she said.