STANWOOD — Every time Stanwood resident Teresa Warlick calls her 78-year-old mother, she has to explain why they’re not having the conversation face to face.
Warlick has been unable to see her mom, who suffers from short-term memory loss, for more than a week since her care home was struck by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I usually see her every day,” said Warlick, who’s been told her mother hasn’t shown any symptoms of coronavirus. “It’s been hard because you can’t look her in the eye and see how she’s really feeling or see how she’s doing.”
Her mother is one of about 200 seniors under lockdown at Josephine Caring Community in Stanwood, which provides assisted living, transitional rehabilitation services and long-term care.
As of Friday afternoon, 17 cases had been confirmed in residents and staff at Josephine, according to the Snohomish Health District.
Two people connected with the facility have died after testing positive for the illness. A woman in her 90s with underlying health conditions died Thursday, the health district reported. A Josephine resident in his 80s, who also had other health issues and was hospitalized in Snohomish County, died on March 9.
Twelve residents and four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at Josephine, Terry Robertson, the organization’s CEO, said on Thursday. Of the surviving sick residents, one remained in the hospital, seven were being isolated in the nursing home, and two were being isolated in their assisted living apartments, Robertson said.
On Friday, the health district reported another infection in connection with Josephine, but declined to say whether the person was a staff member or resident, citing patient privacy rules.
Twenty-two staff members and 13 residents had tested negative for COVID-19 as of Thursday afternoon, Robertson said. A test for another resident was pending, and four to five more symptomatic people in the nursing home were to be tested.
Those with symptoms are being isolated, he said.
The outbreak at Josephine spawned fears that the situation might play out in a similar way to what has happened at Life Care Center in Kirkland, which has been hit harder by the coronavirus than anywhere else in the United States. As of Thursday, 35 deaths had been linked to the Kirkland facility, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County.
All Life Care residents have been tested, according to a news release from the nursing home.
But Josephine Caring Community does not plan to test everyone living on the Stanwood campus, Robertson said.
“There’s not nearly enough test kits in the United States. The CDC has asked us not to test unless you have symptoms,” he said.
Priorities for testing include hospitalized patients who are showing symptoms, as well as symptomatic individuals who are older adults with chronic medical conditions or compromised immune systems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised health care professionals.
“Tomorrow we could have some more residents or staff show up with the symptoms, so we’d have to test them,” Robertson said. “We don’t know yet.”
The facility has struggled to procure enough personal protective equipment for staff, such as masks, Robertson said in a notice posted to Josephine’s website. He thanked the CDC for recent guidance on how to extend the life of such items.
“We very much appreciate the CDC for their action. Getting enough PPE in the building has been a struggle and these new guidelines are very helpful in assisting us in providing care,” he wrote in the post.
Group dining and activities are still suspended at Josephine, he told The Daily Herald.
“It’s tough,” Robertson said. “We get quite a few drive-bys that come in the lobby and drop off things for their loved one.”
Precautionary measures continue. Residents’ temperatures are being checked every four hours, and staff review their charts daily for any signs of symptoms or respiratory distress. Employees are also screened before their shifts begin.
Most of the residents who have tested positive were assigned to the rehabilitation unit or an adjacent hallway connected to that unit, Robertson said.
The hourly pay for each of Josephine’s 300 staff members has been increased by $2, he said. Caregivers who pick up additional shifts are also given bonuses, and those working in the isolation area are paid extra.
Family members with relatives there say they have been pleased by the staff’s efforts to keep them apprised of their loved ones’ conditions.
Warlick said she gets calls from Josephine employees every two days “on the dot.”
“They don’t hide anything,” she said. “I’m satisfied with how they’re handling it there. I think they’ve done a great job.”
Nursing home staff are also offering to connect residents and their relatives via Skype.
Kerry Hartjen, who lives in Friday Harbor, has spoken with his 95-year-old mother-in-law via video chat twice since the outbreak started.
“She doesn’t understand how it all works. It’s like magic to her,” Hartjen said. “Her face lights up. She’s just so happy.”
Hartjen, too, has been satisfied with staff’s response.
“They’re just so good about making sure that the residents are not feeling alone,” he said.
“They update us constantly about what’s going on through emails and phone calls,” he added. “We knew they’d be on top of this, and they were.”
Josephine Caring Community, more than a century old, is a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The ministry also operates childcare and early learning programs. Those programs have been closed to most of the public until at least mid-April. However, Josephine is still providing childcare to staff members, first responders and other health care workers, Robertson said.
The organization has seen an outpouring of community support amid the outbreak.
Jennifer Cisneros, who owns a Stanwood-based residential cleaning service, dropped off nearly 200 vanilla lattes donated by a local espresso stand for the nursing home’s staff on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“They go in every day and care for the weak and the elderly. The community just wants them to know that they are seen and supported,” she said. “I imagine it’s pretty scary going to work every day knowing that there’s positive cases all around you.”
Along with the coffees, she left residents a basket of colorful cards and drawings, made by her children and kids of her staff, neighbors and customers.
“All those people haven’t been able to see family,” she said. “I know a lot of them are just really lonely and discouraged.”