A staff member and two residents in the nursing center at Cottage Grove Place, a retirement community in Cedar Rapids with both independent living units and skilled nursing care, tested positive for the virus last week, according to emails sent to family members of residents at the facility on April 22 and 24. Two weeks before that, a dishwasher in the independent living area’s kitchen tested positive, the first email said.
Cottage Grove Place is not listed on IDPH’s dashboard of long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases because it has not met the definition of an outbreak. IDPH defines an outbreak as three or more residents of a long-term care facility testing positive for COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, 23 facilities across the state are experiencing outbreaks, including four in Linn County.
Residents at the nursing center are checked on three times a day and Cottage Grove Place is communicating with Linn County Public Health and the Iowa Department of Public Health, Cottage Grove Executive Director Mark Bailey told Little Village.
Employees have their temperature screened and are asked a variety of screening questions prior to their shift.
The two residents who tested positive are in isolation and have been for approximately a week. The isolation area is secured, Bailey said, and has designated staff members to care for those residents.
In addition to its nursing center, Cottage Grove Place has apartments for both independent and assisted living. No residents in assisted or independent living have tested positive, Bailey said.
Even though long-term care facilities and retirement communities both house individuals who are at higher risk of COVID-19, the guidelines in Iowa for making information public about COVID-19 cases in those places differ. If Cottage Grove — or a different retirement community in the state — experiences cases within assisted or independent living, it’s not guaranteed the public will know about it.
IDPH spokesperson Amy McCoy said in an email that the name of a business or entity with an outbreak can be released to the public if the IDPH director or state medical director determines a disclosure is necessary to protect the public.
“Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state medical director, has determined that releasing the name of a long-term care facility experiencing an outbreak, and releasing the name of certain employers experiencing an outbreak, are both necessary for public protection,” McCoy said.
That same disclosure is not given regarding a senior living facility, which McCoy said “emphasizes the independence of the individual and is different than a long-term care setting, which is a health care facility.” IDPH defines long-term care facilities as “institutions that provide health care to people who are unable to manage independently in the community.”
Linn County also makes a distinction between independent living units and those that provide skilled nursing care in retirement communities.
Facilities that offer a combination of services, such as a retirement community that has residential spaces as well as nursing center units, would be considered as having both a long-term care facility and a congregate living facility, said Kaitlin Emrich, assessment and health promotion supervisor at LCPH.
(Both LCPH and IDPH offer assistance and guidance to any facility, regardless of definition.)
“The section licensed to provide nursing care similar to a nursing home would be treated as a long-term care facility,” Emrich said in an email. “The retirement community would be treated similar to other independent living settings such as apartments or condominiums.”
If cases arise within the residential units in a retirement community, LCPH would treat it similar to an apartment building and not name the organization, Emrich said. The information could be made public if the facility requests or gives permission.
LCPH would release that information “if it were necessary to protect the health of the public,” Emrich said.
“A lot of times when we’re talking about facilities, we’re really focusing on nursing homes with long-term care facilities,” LCPH’s Clinical Services Supervisor Heather Meador said at a press conference on Monday. “Nursing homes have a bit of a different guidance that comes as compared to other facilities. At times we’re not able to release information unless it’s necessary for the protection of the public.”
Just as independent living units are considered similar to an apartment building and not made public, the same is true for group homes. At a Linn County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, LCPH director Pramod Dwivedi said the department is working with and investigating six group homes in the county.
“Right now, there’s not a threat to the public from any of the group homes that we’ve worked with,” Meador said at Monday’s press conference. “So when we’re doing an investigation, it’s an investigation. Something has come up, we’re trying to figure out what’s going on, so we’re looking into it. That investigation may yield that nothing is going on — that this is just normal respiratory illness that we see commonly at this time of year — or it may reveal that we have COVID-19.”