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New report offers insight into deadly COVID-19 outbreak at NH Veterans Home

  • The New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

Concord Monitor
Published: 3/19/2021 9:28:00 PM
Modified: 3/19/2021 9:27:57 PM

TILTON, N.H. — The staff at the New Hampshire Veterans Home did not always follow the best-practice health precautions during of the facility’s deadly COVID-19 outbreak, but the home now has the resources and protocols to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the future, according to a report released by the state this week.

The report, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, was based on an in-person visit from health officials March 12, nearly two months after the facility’s outbreak was officially deemed to be over.

“Overall, your facility has a good infection prevention and control infrastructure,” read a letter from Andria Scacheri, a member of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control.

At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu hailed the report as a generally complimentary portrait of the nursing home.

“Overall it was a very positive report,” he said. “But like many facilities across the country, there were issues.”

The document pointed out a few instances in which infection control protocols were not properly followed.

When a licensed nursing assistant was asked how to properly take off personal protective equipment, there “were important steps missing as well as discrepancies regarding the disposal of contaminated PPE.”

The assessment concluded that “staff compliance” was the greatest challenge with infection prevention and control.

The report also noted some delays in coronavirus testing, explaining the “NH Public Health Lab courier has been picking up the specimens a day late, which creates a delay in response.”

The findings are largely in line with an email sent to Kevin Forrest, the medical center director at the Manchester VA Medical Center, by an inspector whose name has been redacted, that listed a number of recommendations based on an infection control assessment conducted in early December. A copy of this email was obtained by the Concord Monitor.

These recommendations included bringing in more housekeeping staff to thoroughly clean infected rooms before new residents are moved in, expediting the testing process and making cleaning wipes more readily available.

The most glaring issue seemed to be the staff’s ability to correctly follow procedures related to hand hygiene, donning and doffing protective equipment and wearing masks.

“I identified a large gap with employee adherence to infection control recommendations,” the email read. “It is very possible this is contributing to continued transmission and increasing cases.”

The outbreak, which began in November, was the second-deadliest nursing home outbreak in the state, killing 36 residents and infecting 102 more.

Since it began, the Veterans Home has been a fixture in local news.

Family members of residents in the home alleged neglect and said they heard staff were asked to wear the same mask for a week straight. In December, the home made a plea to the public to apply to work at the facility, as they faced a rampant coronavirus outbreak and staff shortages in nearly every position— security officers, food workers, maintenance crews, laundry workers, and nurses.

More than 90% of the residents at the nursing home have now received their COVID-19 vaccine, according to the report, though less than 50% of the staff have been immunized. As of Jan. 25, The Veterans Home is no longer in outbreak status.

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