Ballad Health, local nursing homes restrict visitors as a safeguard against spread of coronavirus

Published 8:58 am Thursday, March 12, 2020

Ballad Health along with area nursing homes are expanding their response efforts regarding the COVID-19 virus after the area’s first case was confirmed Tuesday in Sullivan County.

Eric Deaton, Chief Operating Officer for Ballad Health, said the health system will implement restricted entrances at its hospitals and will screen those who enter in the coming days.

“We ask that our neighbors remain calm and understand the steps we are taking today and will take in the coming days and weeks, are intended to protect the health care workforce, and also to reduce the potential for the spread of this virus,” said Deaton.

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Alan Levine, Chairman and CEO of Ballad Health, said in a news release Tuesday, “COVID-19 has arrived in our region, and we are taking steps to ensure we are responsive to the needs of the people who may rely on our care.”
Levine also said Ballad Health has activated its Corporate Emergency Operations Center to coordinate response efforts across the health system, which will enable the most rapid response possible as the situation may evolve.

Ballad has also established a call center for people to contact if they are experiencing mild symptoms and wish to speak to a healthcare professional. The hotline is active 24/7 and the number is 1-833-822-5523.

Those who are experiencing symptoms and plan to visit a doctor or urgent care are encouraged to call ahead to ensure the doctor or urgent care office is prepared.

Also, all local nursing homes have temporarily suspended visitation as a precautionary measure to protect their residents and in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

They along with thousands of nursing homes and assisted-living centers across the United States are becoming islands of isolation as health care administrators take unprecedented steps to lock them down, hoping to protect some of the nation’s most vulnerable residents from the threat posed by the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, industry leaders recommended curtailing all but essential visits at homes across the country, calling the challenge posed by the novel coronavirus “one of the most significant, if not the most significant” issues the industry has ever faced.

Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Elizabethton, issued a statement Tuesday evening on its Facebook page, which in part read: “As a measure of caution for our elderly population, we are limiting visitors to our building at this time. We strive to provide as much protection to our residents as possible, especially during this challenging time. Those who wish to visit, in a critical circumstance situation, will need to be cleared by our administrator and director of nursing.”

Also, the administrator of Living Waters of Roan Highlands in a statement said, “As a precautionary measure to protect our residents and in response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, visitation at all locations has been temporarily suspended…At this time, we request that family and friends do not visit the center. Out of abundance of caution, we are limiting all visitors unless absolutely necessary. We are posting signs on our entryway doors to notify visitors of this policy and actively screening individuals, including staff, who need to come into the building.”

Also, visits to both Hillview Health Care and Hermitage Health Care have been suspended. Persons entering the building, including staff, will be screened.

A spokesman at Life Care Center of Elizabethton said visitation had been restricted. “We are suggesting at this time that visitors do not come unless it is absolutely necessary,” she said.

Also, effective immediately, all VA nursing homes will adopt a “no visitor” policy, which means no outside visitors will be allowed to see residents, although exceptions will be made for veterans in their last stages of life in hospice units.

New admissions have also been suspended at VA nursing homes.

A variety of factors make nursing homes especially at risk to an epidemic: older residents often have weakened immune systems, and because visitors are constantly coming and going, this allows germs to spread. On top of that, residents, who live in proximity, often move back and forth to hospitals when they become acutely ill, making them potential carriers of infection.

Dr. Stephen May, Medical Director for the Sullivan County Health Dept., said the COVID-19 coronavirus appears to pose a significantly greater risk to the elderly moreso than a typical seasonal flu — although the two illnesses share some similarities and are often compared. Both can spread easily and attack the lungs.

With the flu, nursing homes vaccinate their staff and patients, but no vaccine exists for the novel coronavirus. The death rate from the flu varies widely, depending on how strong the strain, but its potential lethality is sharply curbed by the built-in immunity created by vaccinations and some people’s immune defenses.

The Tennessee Department of Health on Wednesday released a county breakdown of the seven confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Of the seven, four are in Williamson County. Shelby, Davidson, and Sullivan counties each have one confirmed cast.

The Tennessee Health Department is working closely with local health officials to support the ongoing investigations of COVID-19 cases, the agency said. The overall risk remains low as COVID-19 is not currently widespread in Tennessee or the United States.

To protect against the coronavirus The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly advises washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.