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EDITORIAL: Idaho health care facility follows CDC guidance and is questioned by the media. Is that OK?


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The following is an editorial from Troy Bell, president TanaBell Health Services. The editorial is in response to the following article published on Oct. 4, 2020.

In mid-September, I received a call from an employee stating that a reporter from the Idaho Statesman had called her and was asking her questions about the COVID outbreak at our Tambree Meadows Assisted Living facility. I asked my employee to refer her to me and told her she did not need to talk to the media, as I represent Tambree Meadows and will address the media. In good faith, I took Ms. Audrey Dutton’s calls multiple times throughout the month, answered every question she asked of me, and gave of my valuable time while I was trying to manage a COVID outbreak. 

Knowing we had done and we’re doing everything we could to meet CDC guidelines and to take care of our beloved residents and staff, I was hopeful that Ms. Dutton would write a fair, factual, and informative piece that could maybe enlighten the community of the challenges we are facing in long term care facilities. We were working closely with Public Health in Idaho Falls and the Department of Health and Welfare and doing all we could to battle this unprecedented virus, surely a professional and fair report describing what we were facing could be composed. When I read the article entitled “Idaho health care facility had to call COVID- positive staff to work. Is that OK? “on October 4, 2020, I was extremely disappointed. Basic facts like how many facilities my company owns and operates were incorrect. (We own and operate nine, not eight.) Speculation that we were not conducting COVID testing enough or per regulatory standards are simply not true. My quotes were cut up and not complete to make it appear as if I contradicted myself. The headline led people to believe we were allowing COVID positive staff to work with any resident without any restrictions.   

From my perspective and the perspective of many that understand our industry and understand what is truly happening on the front lines, the article proved to be a unfair representation of our facility, the industry, our staff, and residents. I am in no way claiming Ms. Dutton intentionally tried to represent our facility in a bad light. I am in no way attacking her as well. She is a reporter looking to make a story interesting for her readers. I respect that and her but singling out our facility during this pandemic I do not understand.

Hundreds of facilities have had COVID outbreaks or are likely going to experience COVID, however, she chose to highlight Tambree Meadows because a disgruntled staff member who sent her a text did not like the fact that we ASKED staff to come voluntarily to work if they were capable and able. We cannot and did not force anyone to work, we simply asked because we had no other choice and our residents needed care. Is Ms. Dutton not aware of the fact that facilities all over this State and Country are having to bring in COVID positive staff to work with COVID positive patients or residents? It is happening every day! That information would have been extremely beneficial to the reader. Ms. Dutton’s piece made it appear as if we are the only facility in the State that is being forced or required to do this or that has done this, and that only a couple throughout the country were forced to staff this way. Many facilities in this State have been pushed to this emergency level for months. 
Thus, the CDC has made it an acceptable practice when there are no alternatives.  

The Department of Health and Welfare, Public Health, and we as providers are doing all we can to protect and care for Idaho Geriatrics and our beloved staff. This is new territory for all of us, and we are all just doing our best with the current pandemic. Our staff at Tambree Meadows is now devastated because they are being slandered on social media outlets and websites for doing all we could to help protect and care for our residents. Some of our staff worked 20 straight days with no days off and pulled many doubles to make sure the residents had what they needed and were cared for. Staff at Tambree Meadows are my heroes, and I love and honor them. Our team put their lives at risk and their families at risk to make sure they were there, even when some had COVID themselves. They were truly amazing during this horrific challenge. This was a choice they made because of their deep love and devotion to their residents, not because of any threat or requirement by management. That is a real story! That is the story the media should tell the public and publish.  Unfortunately, The Statesman and East Idaho News post articles like this that allow front line caregivers to get attacked on social media and on their web pages. They are told by many how horrible they are and that the facility and organization that they are so devoted and loyal to is doing something wrong when it is following CDC emergency guidance. That is not what they need. Tambree Meadows has spent the last two weeks celebrating a COVID-free facility and getting through this traumatic time, and then this is what they wake up to on a Sunday. 

There was no mention in Ms. Dutton’s article that we are COVID FREE at Tambree Meadows. There was no mention of all the preventive measures we have taken for the last six months trying to do all we could to keep COVID out. There is no mention of the money and resources that have been exhausted on PPE, testing, training, screening staff and residents, overtime, and extra work that COVID presents to long term care facilities and staff. The media and public truly have no idea what daily challenges we are facing in long term care during this COVID crisis.  

With all due respect to acute care providers, it gets discouraging hearing about how heroic all the frontline staff are in hospitals and then the next breath hearing how bad long-term care facilities are. Acute staff are amazing and are doing amazing things. There is COVID positive staff in hospitals working with COVID positive patients and you do not see them getting bad press and being questioned for it. For the most part, media praises acute care providers, and they should be praised.  

The staff in long term care facilities are just as important, as we work with one of the most vulnerable populations in the world. 

We are taking care of the greatest generation and doing all we can to protect them, and when the unimaginable happens and COVID spreads into one of our facilities, the media and public portray us like we are criminals and negligent. I am sure the public knows COVID spreads in hospitals, schools, churches, newspaper agencies, and every setting. Why is it that the public demands that long-term care providers miraculously stop COVID from coming into our facilities and spreading? We cannot stop it; we only hope to keep it out. Almost 200 facilities in the State of Idaho have already had a COVID outbreak of some kind at their facility. Have they done something wrong? Absolutely not! Will outbreaks stop with the exhausting added regulation and testing rules we receive each week…no! EVERY long-term care facility in this State, to no fault of their own, will have a chance to deal with COVID before this pandemic ends. We are all doing the best we can with help from the Government and local agencies. Unfortunately, this virus will spread despite our very best and most precise efforts and protocols.

What would be refreshing is some support from the media and public, not a criticism at every opportunity. Can we come together and support each other in society anymore? Long term care facilities cannot replace staff overnight. Staff must have background checks, have licenses and certifications, and must know how to treat and care for residents and patients. Staffing agencies cannot and will not fill a void in a COVID positive facility. Public Health does not have a staff they can send in during a crisis. There is already a staffing shortage in the industry that many in the public are not aware of. Industry staff are leaving at an alarming rate because of the added COVID requirements and stress it puts on them as care providers. We must frequently talk to staff about COVID burnout and suicide prevention because of the overwhelming pressure they are under. These are realities for caregivers in long term care today. The staff at Tambree and all facilities deserve support and praise. They are not perfect, we are not perfect at Tambree Meadows, but we do what must be done to care for our residents in an emergency.

If those sitting behind their keyboards and tablets criticizing facilities and caregivers really care about American Geriatrics, true solutions, and the COVID crisis, then we encourage them to join us by putting on some scrubs, getting educated and trained, and becoming a long term care hero with us. We are hiring! We will be looking for your application during this time of record unemployment. America’s cherished geriatrics need fewer critics and more frontline heroes in the COVID world today.   

Troy V. Bell, NHA, RCA, MBA
President TanaBell Health Services, Inc