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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - This 2020 electron microscope made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention image shows the spherical coronavirus particles from the first U.S. case of covid-19. (C.S. Goldsmith, A. Tamin/CDC via AP)

As covid-19 numbers continue to rise throughout Arkansas and Jefferson County, protecting one of the most vulnerable populations has become a priority on the state level. Nursing home residents were hit hard in the state of Arkansas at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The first nursing home case was reported by the Arkansas Department of Health on March 25 and was associated with the Waters of White Hall.

Health officials announced that the initial case at The Waters of White Hall appeared to be associated with a case linked to the original cluster at Jefferson Regional Medical Center.

Since then, the nursing home has had 51 positive residents with the most recent one reported to the health department on Oct. 1. Sixteen residents total were also reported as deceased.

In a previous interview, Donna Morton, the facility's administrator, released a statement describing The Waters of White Hall's "aggressive and proactive approach" against the coronavirus through "intense" methods including "monitoring, screening, education and awareness and appropriate prevention and management."

Efforts to contact Morton on Monday were unsuccessful, but Monday's report released by the Arkansas Department of Health showed the health care facility has 34 residents who have recovered.

Posts on their social media page pictured residents who had defeated covid-19, calling them the "true heroes."

On Mar. 13, the Department of Health issued a directive temporarily suspending visitation to nursing homes in Arkansas to reduce the spread of the virus. The directive prohibited all visitation at long-term care facilities unless medically necessary by law enforcement or emergency personnel, a representative from the Department of Health, a representative from the Department of Human Services Office of Long-Term Care or a representative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In June the Department of Health allowed the facilities to reopen to visitors after all residents and staff members were tested and cleared by the Arkansas Department of Health.

Waters of White Hall began to allow family members to see their loved ones, even announcing on their social media page that families were coming to the Waters of White Hall to visit their loved ones while using good social distancing.

But even with the directive in place, the state of Arkansas is still seeing an increase in positive cases with a total of 3,396 total positive residents, 2,347 total positive staff, 562 deceased residents, and two deceased staff.

Last week the Arkansas Department of Health revised the Visitation, Screening, and Staffing Directive for Long-term Care Facilities stating all long-term care facilities must prohibit all visitation except as allowed by the directive. Allowed visitation would be for medical staff, law enforcement, emergency personnel or representatives from the Disability Rights of Arkansas, as well as in cases of compassionate care situations.

To be eligible for expanded visitation and other activities, a long-term care facility must meet the following requirements:

1) The facility has not had a newly positive covid-19 case in the 14 calendar days before expanded visitation or other activities are offered, measured from the date of the facility's latest newly positive covid-19 test result;

2) The facility has adequate staff to provide enough direct care, housekeeping, and dietary services to residents to meet the needs of all residents and existing legal requirements, and the facility is not under a waiver of any state or federal staffing requirements;

3) The facility has adequate personal protective equipment to meet the needs of residents and staff;

4) The facility screens every visitor, activity participant, and staff prior to entry to the facility, including facility employees, contractors, vendors, and all other persons who enter the facility; and

5) The facility will restrict access to the facility to all persons who meet any screening criteria for restricted access.

For long-term care facilities that are not eligible for expanded visitation and other activities, the health department is suggesting alternative methods such as visitation booths located outside the structure of a facility to conduct or facilitate visitation where a resident is brought to that location to visit. The resident must be completely separated from visitors by Plexiglas or similar barrier, and the facility has not had more than three active resident or staff cases at any one time within the past 14 calendar days.

The health department says that expanded visitation and other activities should be held outdoors unless the weather does not permit or other circumstances are out of the control of long-term care facilities. Visitation and other activities held indoors must be held in designated areas that are outside of a resident's room or in private, but visitation can be approved in a resident's room if the resident is bedbound or cannot leave his or her room for health reasons.

A long-term care facility must immediately suspend all expanded visitation and other activities if at any time the facility no longer meets the eligibility criteria for expanded visitation and other activities. If the long-term care facility suspends visitation because one or more residents or facility staff become newly positive, the facility must suspend visitation for at least 14 days from the date of the most recent newly positive case. If the facility suspends visitation because of non-compliance with any other eligibility criteria, the facility must suspend visitation until the facility meets all eligibility criteria.

According to the health department, a long-term care facility must immediately suspend all expanded visitation and other activities if at any time the facility no longer meets the eligibility criteria for expanded visitation and other activities. If the long-term care facility suspends visitation because one or more residents or facility staff become newly positive, the facility must suspend visitation for at least 14 days from the date of the most recent newly positive case.

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