DeKALB – A resident of Pine Acres Rehab and Living Center in DeKalb has died from complications from the coronavirus, according to a statement from the DeKalb County Health Department on Thursday.
In total, 31 residents and nine employees have contracted the viral respiratory disease at the 119-bed capacity long-term care facility at 1212 S. Second St. in DeKalb. As of Thursday, the Pine Acres outbreak represents 10.3% of total cases in DeKalb County and 25% of all deaths.
According to an email released by the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Pine Acres resident was a woman in her 70s, although her identity will not be released to protect the privacy of her family, the county health department announcement said.
One of those 31 residents who tested positive is Laura Alvarez’s maternal grandmother. Alvarez lives nearby the facility and consistently visits her grandmother but during the pandemic has been forced to do so via a window instead of in-person, because of the facility’s attempt to prohibit the virus from entering.
She said she’s worried about her grandmother, who underwent COVID-19 testing Tuesday and was hospitalized Thursday morning with positive results and pneumonia. Her grandmother is alone during this time, since Alvarez also can’t see her in the hospital.
“I think the biggest frustration for me in this is that her emotional health is neglected,” Alvarez said. “We applaud the heroes on the front lines, but there’s a portion of us who would be heroes who aren’t allowed to play our role. My grandmother needs me.”
Alvarez said she’s the only one in her family who is able to visit her grandmother consistently.
“Her children do not live in Illinois, and I haven’t been able to see her except through a window for 21/2 months,” Alvarez said. “The nurses and doctors have been trained to fix her physically, but I’m capable of fixing her emotionally, and at this point in her life, I think that’s what she needs.”
The growing number of cases in Pine Acres mark the second local longterm care facility in the county to be linked to COVID-19 – one employee of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center tested positive for the virus on May 15 – though the facilities are keeping a tight lid on public communications.
It’s unclear whether facility-wide testing has been done at Pine Acres, because the Daily Chronicle has been unable to correspond with any staff, and DeKalb County Public Health Administrator Lisa Gonzalez did not return multiple requests for comment Thursday.
At the guidance of the IDPH, longterm care facilities began strict lockdown protocols in March, not allowing visitors, preventing residents from coming and going unless necessary and screening staff for COVID-19 symptoms upon entry.
Multiple emails were sent to the Daily Chronicle this week from people who said they have family members in the facility and expressed concern over their safety, but did not wish to be identified. When approached by a Daily Chronicle reporter this week outside of Pine Acres, employees said they did not want to comment for fear of retaliation by their employer, though many said they were opposed to public outcry that they were at fault for bringing the virus into the facility, which has been on lockdown per IDPH guidelines since March.
Calls to the main number listed for Pine Acres have resulted in multiple refusals for comment.
When the Daily Chronicle placed a call to Pine Acres Thursday, someone who identified herself as Ashley picked up.
“We would appreciate if you would stop calling us. We have more serious things to deal with,” she said, then hung up the phone.
In an emailed letter from April shared with the Daily Chronicle by a family member of a resident, Jessica Eberly, social services director, assured the family Pine Acres staff are doing all they can for the residents under extraordinary circumstances, including scheduling Skype and FaceTime visits for family to chat with their loved ones.
“We are doing our best to keep all of our residents busy and giving them the most love we can,” Eberly said in the April message. “These are tough times but we are doing what we can. We are allowing care packages to be dropped off or delivered they are required to sit in our vestibule area for 72 hours to ensure they are bacteria free if that is something you guys would like to do.”
In a news release sent by the county health department on behalf of Pine Acres on Sunday, the longterm care facility said the residents tested positive on Saturday.
“We have identified all residents that may have been exposed,” the release stated. “Those residents and their family/guardian/representative/conservator were notified, as well as the resident’s physician. These affected residents have been placed on transmission-based precautions.”
New state-mandated testing
During his Thursday news conference, Gov. JB Pritzker said the IDPH filed a new rule requiring each nursing home to develop its own individualized testing and plan, and document an established relationship with a testing lab, whether a commercial lab, a local hospital or state labs.
Pritzker said nursing homes that don’t comply with the rule would face consequences.
“It’s typically a fine, but it can involve their licensing too,” Pritzker said.
Facilities also must provide a copy of their infection control policies and procedures residents and their families, along with IDPH or local health departments, upon request.
The DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center announced its first case, an employee, on May 15, and linked the case to 17 additional people in the facility who may have been exposed. Testing for those and others in the nursing center, however, did not occur for 12 days. When asked why, DeKalb County Administrator Gary Hanson said it was a logistical issue which delayed testing in the facility, which was not undertaken until Tuesday.
COVID-19 test results for the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing center are expected Friday.