The COVID-19 outbreak at Flagstone Senior Living that killed 13 senior residents, and infected 51 people in total, appears to be over.
By the end of this week, Flagstone, located in The Dalles, will have gone 28 days — two incubation periods for COVID-19 — from the onset of symptoms from the last reported case without another reported case of COVID-19; which, by official standards, means that the outbreak will be over.
However, “state officials caution that outbreaks that appear to be quelled can become resurgent,” according to a North Central Public Health District (NCPHD) press release. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) attributes a total of 51 cases of COVID-19 to the Flagstone outbreak, a number that includes all 30 residents of Flagstone’s Memory Care Unit. Of those, 12 residents have died.
Flagstone reported the last cases of COVID-19 at its facility in The Dalles on Oct. 1. The first cases were reported Sept. 13.
Because Flagstone has now gone two consecutive weeks with no positive test results, the state no longer mandates Flagstone staff and residents to undergo weekly testing for COVID-19. Staff members will continue to be tested monthly, in compliance with Oregon Health Authority requirements for all long-term care facilities in Oregon.
All Memory Care residents have been receiving care at outside facilities since Oct. 9 or earlier, but as of Oct. 22, residents are beginning to return to Flagstone, according to an NCPHD press release on that date.
Multiple employees who worked during the first days of the Flagstone outbreak have publicly spoken out about negative conditions they experienced at the facility, primarily as a result of being overworked and understaffed to the point where residents suffered from neglect, despite local staff’s best efforts to keep up with residents’ needs.
New among them is Sharla Weber Mosqueda, who had been serving as Flagstone Senior Living’s executive director for five years at the onset of the outbreak.
Mosqueda was fired the week of Oct. 5, allegedly because she “didn’t react strongly enough to an employee’s emotional outburst.”
As reported in an Oct. 7 Columbia Gorge News article, Scott Scrimshaw, a former staff member at Flagstone who worked during throughout the outbreak, was fired after he self-admittedly “lost it” when, after trying to calm the one Memory Care resident who hadn’t yet tested positive for COVID-19, saw that the supplemental staff sent in by Flagstone’s corporate office, Milestone Retirement Communities, were gathered outside the facility while a resident was lying inside on the floor, unaided after falling.
“So, they (Milestone) told me to fire him, which I did that day,” said Mosqueda. “And then 48 hours went by before they fired me.”
In an Oct. 8 letter to residents and staff members, Milestone stated that Mosqueda “opted to move on from the Executive Director position,” and thanked Mosqueda for her years of service to Flagstone.
“That was really disheartening, that they weren’t honest and told them what happened,” said Mosqueda. She said that she saw the “writing on the wall” before Milestone fired her, and brought the remaining staff together to assure them of her resolve. “I said, ‘I just want you guys to know that if I’m not here, it’s because I was fired. It is not because I abandoned you, and is not because I’m giving up on you.’”
Mosqueda said that many other senior living administrators around the state stepped down from their positions as soon as they had a confirmed case of COVID-19 inside their facility. “I could never do that to my team. I could never do that. So, I didn’t want them to think that I just gave up, because I didn’t.”
When asked by a reporter on Oct. 12 if there had been a change in leadership at Flagstone, Cheryl Ridgeway, chief operations officer for Milestone, confirmed that Mosqueda was “no longer an employee of Milestone.” Milestone later declined to comment on the circumstances of Mosqueda’s termination, and the subsequent letter sent to residents and staff. “Our position is that we have to maintain confidentiality of our employment relationship with any employee and cannot comment to others about that relationship,” said Ridgeway in an Oct. 16 email.
Milestone appointed Kaiden Abdul as interim executive director at Flagstone while they recruit and train Mosqueda’s replacement. News staff were unable to reach Abdul for comment before press time.
When asked in a previous interview about Scrimshaw’s account of conditions at Flagstone during the outbreak, Rosalyn Watson, executive vice president of clinical and compliance for Milestone, said, “I think the majority of what we read in the article was a disgruntled employee.”
“He was a ‘disgruntled employee,’ but he had very good reason to be upset,” said Mosqueda in response. “And granted, he didn’t express his frustration in a productive way, and I get that; but … they (Watson and other Milestone corporate workers) weren’t there. They didn’t see exactly what the staff were going through.”
Staff and residents were tested weekly for COVID-19, and any employee who tested positive, or who lived with someone who tested positive, was sent home on a mandatory 14-day quarantine. In total, 15 staff members were put on mandatory quarantine, and several others chose not to work for health reasons.
“We were scrambling to cover staff, only able to schedule out the next 24 hours at a time, and we had a core group of people who stayed and worked tirelessly out of great love and selflessness for the residents and for each other,” said Mosqueda. Staff frequently worked 16 to 20 hours per day — with some working more than 30 hours at a time — in back to back shifts in order to keep Flagstone running. “And unless you’re actually in it in the middle of that … you cannot fathom what the staff went through. You just can’t … It’s one of those things you have to experience firsthand.”
While Milestone did send several additional staff members to help manage the workload at Flagstone, Mosqueda said that they didn’t do enough to help and support the small number of remaining staff.
On the other hand, Mosqueda praised the North Central Public Health District (NCPHD) and the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) for the support and resources they provided throughout the outbreak. She specifically recalled one person from ODHS who “came in and sat down in my office and said, ‘I’m here to help and support you. I’m here to help you through this. You have not been through COVID-19 before. No one has, before this happens to them. And I’m here to help you,’ which was wonderful,” said Mosqueda. “It was wonderful to have that type of support from the state (and) the type of support that we got from the health department.”
Above all else, Mosqueda said she wanted to emphasize the dedication and hard work of the Flagstone staff members who worked through the height of the outbreak. “I think it’s really important that the community — and when I say the community, I mean, Gorge-wide — they understand that our staff stepped up and did everything that they could. And they were absolutely selfless, risking their own health and the health of their families to be there out of love and commitment to our residents,” said Mosqueda. “Our staff is amazing. They are amazing and worked under extremely difficult circumstances, long, long, long hours, to do what they could. And that’s really important. And I hope that the community has some compassion towards that and appreciation for how great the team is.”