Eleven residents have died at Flagstone Senior Living, where an outbreak of COVID-19 was first identified Sept. 13.

According to a Sept. 30 press release from North Central Public Health District, a total of 48 cases have been linked to the outbreak, including residents, staff and household members of staff.

Local staff at Flagstone describe a crisis at the Memory Care Unit during which caregivers were overwhelmed and assistance from corporate managers was not forth-coming.

With many staff members quarantined, on vacation or not available, staffing in the unit plummeted.

Scott Scrimshaw, a staff member, was one of those who worked throughout the outbreak. In a call to Columbia Gorge News, Scrimshaw described a scene in which local staff working in the memory care unit were overwhelmed to the point of crisis.

Patients suffered as a result, said Scrimshaw. “For 12 days, two people are working 16, 18, 20 hour days,” he said. Scrimshaw worked in the unit as recreation staff. “I play Bingo with the patients,” he said. During the crisis, he helped with the physical care-giving needed. “I’m a chaplain too,” he said, “this is also my ministry.” He said patients were sitting in their bodily fluids, and not moved properly to avoid bed sores.

Another staff member, who asked to be anonymous, said “residents were getting the best care we could give, but it was overwhelming. For two weeks we were working nonstop. We were overworked and not getting enough rest.”

According to the North Central Public Health District press release, “Administration and staff at Flagstone have worked tirelessly to care for the residents, working long hours and double shifts to cover for fellow workers who are in isolation due to the virus.”

Scrimshaw and the second staff member both agreed. “The local staff did the best they could; Sharla (Mosqueda, executive director of Flagstone) did right by residents and staff alike,” the staff member said.

Both were critical of the corporate response to local calls for help. Flagstone Senior Living in The Dalles is managed by Milestone Retirement Communities, which owns multiple facilities in nine states, including four in Oregon. 

According to both accounts, Milestone sent three additional caregivers to help toward the end of the week, but “it just wasn’t enough staff to cover. They didn’t work the night time,” said the second staff member. Local staff were unable to keep up with the needs of the residents.

Steve Morris, owner of the Heart of Hospice franchise, voluntarily sent in teams to help. They stayed all night, for two nights, bathing residents so Flagstone staff could get some rest.

On a typical day, the unit would be staffed with a 1-to-5 caregiver/resident ratio, said Scrimshaw. During the crisis, there were times when only two staff were providing care in the unit.

“This was a corporate failure, not sending help,” the anonymous staff member said. “This has not been right.”

That staff member is  now home with “all the symptoms of COVID-19.”

Scrimshaw no longer works at Flagstone. He said he was trying to calm the only patient in the unit who had not tested positive for COVID-19. The patient had been calling for help, and he was trying to calm her. She had stale food, and no water, and “was trapped in a plastic maze” being used to isolate her from those who had the disease. When he came out into the main room, the supplemental staff brought in to help by the corporate office, having arrived late, could be seen outside the facility, and a person in the memory care unit had fallen and were lying on their back. “I lost it,” Scrimshaw admitted. He said he went outside and explained the situation in the unit, and was quite forceful. Following the encounter, “I was fired,” he said.

DHS onsite

According to Elisa Williams, a communication officer with the Department of Human Services,  a member of the ODHS staff was onsite four out of five days last week, Williams said. The two Flagstone facilities received their most recent reviews on Oct. 2, however oversight continued through the weekend.

According to Williams, “COVID-19 positive staff are not permitted to work and so that, in turn, created pressure on staffing at the facilities. To assist, ODHS worked with residents, families and the facilities and ultimately relocated seven COVID-19 positive residents to the state’s contracted surge capacity facilities. Surge facilities care for individuals as they recover from COVID-19 and, in turn, help reduce workload for staff at the facilities where they are managing the outbreak.”

The Flagstone facilities also contracted for additional staff support and ODHS is monitoring those efforts, she said.

“In addition to needed assistance with staffing, the ODHS onsite reviews ... identified several areas where the facilities needed additional resources and protocol,” Williams said. Among  needed resources was additional staff for resident care, improved disinfection processes for personal protective equipment and better practices to ensure frequent communication with residents’ families. The facilities are being given ongoing  technical assistance to make corrections in procedures. In the prior week, ODHS staff was on site four times to provide technical assistance with infection control — some of these were day-long sessions.

According to the North Central Public Health District press release, multiple infection control practices to reduce further spread of the virus have now been adopted at the care center.

“All staff and residents (who have not yet tested positive for COVID-19) will be tested weekly for COVID-19 until two weeks have passed with no further cases,” the release stated.

Calls from Columbia Gorge News to Flagstone Senior Living in The Dalles were redirected to an outside number, and had not been returned at press time.

County increase

Since mid-September, there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases in Wasco County. 

During the week of Sunday, Sept. 20 to Saturday, Sept. 26, 58 cases were reported, which is the highest number identified during a single week since the beginning of the pandemic.

Since Sept. 20, 62 confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases have been reported in Wasco County.

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