Jersey Shore, Pa. – Deaths of COVID-19 positive residents at ManorCare in Jersey Shore has risen to 19 as of Tuesday, and one agency is determined to help evacuate residents who want to leave.

Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling Jr. confirmed that 19 residents from the facility on Thompson Street have died. There are currently 51 residents who are positive and are being treated in-house in airborne isolation units, according to Julie Beckert, assistant vice president and director of marketing and communications at the ManorCare corporate office in Toledo, Ohio. A total of 18 residents have recovered, she said.

For those who remain, Misty Dion, chief executive officer of Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living, wants to help. Her agency, based in Williamsport, has worked with Lycoming County Commissioner Rick Mirabito on a COVID-19 relief program that is funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The program allows her agency to help residents move out of facilities such as ManorCare and into a hotel room where they can quarantine safely.

Residents who are quarantining at a hotel would have a caregiver on the premises and 24-hour care available. “We would help them so they can quarantine, and they can be safe until this is done,” Dion said.

Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living has contracted with local hotels to implement this program and will provide three meals per day. Caregivers will have their own rooms at the hotels. Skilled nursing will be provided as well, depending upon the resident’s need. Similar relief programs have already been implemented in Colorado, New York, and Ohio, according to Dion.

Dion pointed out that nursing homes are not places where residents can easily practice social distancing or quarantine. Beckert said at ManorCare the airborne isolation units have temporary walls with limited access. However, Dion has said that most residents at the 120-bed facility are sharing rooms.

Nursing homes also are often understaffed. “A lot of family members go in and take care of their family members on a regular basis,” Dion said. “But due to visitation restrictions they haven’t been able to since March.” More than a dozen staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and are isolating at home, though Beckert claims they have the “appropriate staffing” at this time.

In addition, most nursing home residents do not have easy access to a telephone so that they cannot quickly call loved ones when they are having issues. Most phones in facilities are shared with other residents. Many of these residents do not have their own cell phones in the rooms, she said.

Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living, which serves 30 counties, also currently helps to administer the Nursing Home Transition (NHT) program. Under this program, they work with the state to obtain waivers to allow people to leave nursing homes and go back into a home with support such as skilled nursing, etc. They can help participants find homes, obtain household supplies, and cover deposit fees. However, the waiver process can take up to three months.

For those who are leaving nursing homes now as part of the COVID-19 relief program, her agency will work with the state to expedite the waiver services, Dion said. People who go into the hotels to quarantine as part of the COVID-19 relief program will not have to go back into a nursing home if they choose not to.

The agency is currently working on the transition process for one resident at ManorCare in Jersey Shore, Dion said.

Dion and several others from her agency attended a vigil last week outside of ManorCare and handed out information about the relief program and NHT. “Our biggest barrier is getting people in there to know they have a choice,” Dion said. Many people are not aware of such programs as the FEMA funded COVID-19 relief or NHT programs.

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Dion said the NHT program has been in place even before she started her position at Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living 15 years ago. “It’s a fundamental misconception that people have to go back to a nursing facility,” Dion said.

She also pointed out that lawmakers still have an institutional bias. Many times, people are told by hospitals when they are being discharged that they need to go into a nursing home or skilled nursing facility. They do not realize the same services can be brought to them at home.

“It’s actually three times cheaper to individualize and adequately support their long-term care in their home than in a facility,” Dion said.  

COVID-19 cases at ManorCare were first reported to the public in early May. As of last week, there were 73 positive cases among residents and 25 had tested negative, according to Beckert. The number of cases have raised concerns among family members, community members, and lawmakers.

State Rep. Garth Everett (R-Muncy) of the 84th legislative district has written to the state Department of Health several times looking for answers on how ManorCare is handling testing and infection control.

In a press conference last week, state health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said they have been in contact with ManorCare in Jersey Shore and have offered guidance and consultation. The National Guard would be brought in if deemed necessary, Levine said.

Beckert said Department of Health officials recently visited the facility on Thompson Street and were satisfied with their infection control policy. Dion mentioned that “ManorCare has had a poor history for poor infection control.”

“We have staff in full PPE in the unit. Within the unit we are donning and doffing and conserving appropriately, using disposable meal service, keeping staff dedicated to unit as much as possible, equipment stays on unit and patient equipment stays in room with patient," Beckert said.

"We have universal masking and goggles for all house. We have the PPE we need but our supply chain is looking for more gowns, especially those that can be washed so we can reduce the conservation we have to do,” Beckert said of the airborne isolation units where COVID-19 positive residents are currently being treated. 

Geisinger Jersey Shore Hospital, which is next door to ManorCare, has been doing the testing for the facility. “Any hospital employee who enters the facility is properly outfitted in personal protection equipment (PPE),” said Marc Stempka, spokesperson for Geisinger. He added that the Geisinger system is working with a number of nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities to provide consultation on proper use of PPE. 

Additional Resources: Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living NHT program