The vulnerability of nursing home residents and employees in the Joplin area has come into focus once again in recent days as the number of COVID-19 cases among them continues to rise.

The owners of a nursing home in Carthage say 12 employees and two residents have tested positive for the coronavirus and are recovering.

The corporate owner of Carthage Health and Rehabilitation Center on Wednesday said only five of the employees are showing any symptoms. All employees who tested positive are recovering at home. The two residents who tested positive are not showing symptoms as well and are being treated in a section of the center set up as an isolation ward.

“When we have positive residents, our standard protocol is we create a separate physical area in the facility and we bring in biohazard walls we get from an outside company,” said Joe Perkins, a spokesperson for Northport Health Services, the owner of Carthage Health and Rehab. “We seal the area, we put in air scrubbers, we institute special protocols, we limit the staff who can go into that unit and they have additional levels" of personal protective equipment.

Other homes

Perkins said Northport has recorded no other cases at its sites in Missouri. That includes Webb City Health and Rehabilitation Center and the Joplin Health and Rehabilitation Center.

Matt Younger, interim director of St. Luke’s Nursing Center, also in Carthage, said his center had no positive cases of coronavirus in either patients or employees as of Wednesday. He said a few employees and patients had been tested proactively as part of procedures at a doctor’s office or hospital, but all tests had come back negative.

Younger said St. Luke’s had been allowing families to visit relatives in person and maintaining distancing for a few weeks as the state started to reopen its economy. But it reimposed a lockdown once COVID-19 cases increased in June in the Carthage area.

“People are still able to visit through closed windows by phone, and our employees are helping residents stay in contact with tablets using FaceTime and Messenger apps,” Younger said. “We are still allowing compassionate care visits for people who are at the end of life. We have people don the personal protective equipment, and they enter and exit through one door that is cleaned and sanitized.”

Jasper County

Tony Moehr, director of the Jasper County Health Department, said he’s heard of no cases related to any other nursing homes in Jasper County outside Joplin.

In Joplin, Spring River Christian Village is still dealing with an outbreak that has seen 69 residents and 47 employees test positive for the virus.

The center said in a written statement that 16 of the residents who tested positive have died. The Jasper County coroner has determined that COVID-19 was a significant contributing factor in all but the latest one. That one case is still under investigation.

Two residents have been declared recovered after having had two negative test results each, and seven others are awaiting the results of a second test that could tell them they’ve recovered from the virus.

Nineteen of the 47 employees are listed as recovered.

“We want to thank all of our associates who are tirelessly fighting the battle on the front lines amid the challenges of this pandemic,” said Jake Bell, Christian Horizons president and CEO. Spring River Christian Village is part of the nonprofit Christian Horizons family.

Barry, Lawrence counties

The health departments in Lawrence and Barry counties are reporting dozens of positive cases related to the Lacoba nursing home, which is located on the Barry-Lawrence county line in Monett.

Lawrence County Health Department reported 15 cases related to the home, and Barry County had 38 cases related to it.

Both counties said their counts included residents and employees, but they couldn’t break out how many of each were reported.

Richard Brock, director of the Barry County Health Department, said cases were reported to the health departments based on home address of the resident, not the address of the home, which may cause some confusion.

Brock said his office also had reports of 19 active cases related to Bentonview Nursing Home, also in Monett.

“We had another home that had one case, and that one has been cleared for quite some time now,” Brock said. “We haven’t had any other notifications of active cases in that facility. We knock on wood that we don’t get any more, but we do have community spread in Barry County, so everyone has an opportunity to come in contact with it right now.”

Protocols

Perkins, with Northport Health Services, said his company established a protocol that calls for comprehensive testing of all employees and residents of a facility if “we see any sign of COVID whatsoever.”

He said the fact that only five of the 14 people who tested positive for the coronavirus is both a blessing and a curse for Carthage Health and Rehab.

“If we had not done comprehensive testing, there would have been seven employees who tested positive who would have still been treating residents,” Perkins said. “Most other nursing homes only test those who are symptomatic. But we determined there was no way to control the virus without comprehensive testing, so our numbers reflect that, and about 60 to 65% of the positives we get are asymptomatic.”

He said employees who test positive are required to stay home for at least 14 days and must test negative twice before they can return to work.

For residents of the home, Perkins said, an isolation ward of sorts has been set up.

“We create a separate physical area in the facility. and we bring in biohazard walls we get from an outside company,” Perkins said. “We seal the area, we put in air scrubbers, we institute special protocols, we limit the staff who can go into that unit, and they have additional levels of PPE on.”

Perkins said the two patients being cared for in the isolation area are showing no symptoms of illness.

“They look at us like we’re crazy,” Perkins said. “They tell us, 'I’m not sick.' Right now everything is functioning quite normally at the facility, we have plenty of PPE and because we are a large company and can move people from one place to another, our staffing is under control.”

He said the home is still on lockdown, keeping visitors to the facility to a minimum.