Utah is sending its most vulnerable coronavirus patients to a care center in Salt Lake City

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) City Creek Post Acute has been converted into a facility for coronavirus patients. Tuesday April 14, 2020

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LouDean Jolley received her positive coronavirus result on May 8.

Her daughter Beverly Endicott rushed to the skilled nursing home, where her 84-year-old mother was staying to say goodbye through a window.

“Honestly,” Endicott said, “I thought that was her death sentence.”

Jolley then was taken to City Creek Post Acute, where, on Friday, she still was fighting the effects of COVID-19.

In mid-April, City Creek’s owners struck a deal with the state to turn the 72-bed nursing facility in east Salt Lake City into an isolation center for the most-at-risk coronavirus patients.

City Creek has been taking in residents of long-term care facilities along the Wasatch Front who test positive for COVID-19. While isolation centers have existed in perhaps every pandemic in human history, they’ve been rare in the United States during this one.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The City Creek Post Acute is being converted into a facility for coronavirus patients who have been discharged from hospitals,Tuesday April 14, 2020

Joe Walker, CEO of Advanced Health Care, which operates short-term transitional facilities, said Utah is the only one of the eight states where his company has centers to have created such a place like City Creek.

His nursing homes in Murray and in Orem have sent residents to City Creek, 165 S. 1000 East, after they tested positive for the virus.

“Utah has done a good job of having a good cohesive plan, and explaining that to providers,” said Walker, adding that he believes City Creek has mitigated the outbreak and saved lives.

Long-term care facilities and their residents have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. The virus spreads quickly in close quarters, and residents of nursing homes and rehabilitation centers tend to be at increased risk for death due to their age and the underlying conditions that often go with it.

As of Monday, at least 40 of the state’s 98 coronavirus fatalities were residents of long-term care facilities, and 221 residents of those facilities and 202 workers have tested positive, according to the state health department.

‘Ringing bells and cheering’

(Ted S. Warren | AP file photo) A sign that reads "Praying For You" is shown at the base of the entrance sign for the at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., Tuesday, March 10, 2020, near Seattle.

City Creek bosses declined Salt Lake Tribune requests to interview staffers, but the ownership did send descriptions of what has been going on there.

As of Thursday, the facility had admitted 57 patients, according to data provided by administrator Jared MacDonald. Twenty-one had recovered from COVID-19 and been discharged. Another 33 were still recovering there. Patients who develop severe symptoms are transferred to a hospital.

“Our staff has started a tradition of ringing bells and cheering as our residents are brought down the hall and transported outside to meet family and friends on the day of discharge,” MacDonald wrote in an email to The Tribune. “We will never forget escorting one of our patients out of the building post-recovery, as our staff cheered and wished her well on her return home.

“The resident, who is 87 years old, was overcome with emotion, and the image of her face with tears of gratitude streaming down it will forever be etched into my memory.”

(Spenser Heaps | Deseret News/pool) Retired Utah Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, now leading the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, speaks during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 3, 2020.

Jefferson Burton, the retired Utah National Guard general who has been put in charge of the Utah Department of Health’s pandemic response, said state leaders looked at what happened at the nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., where 45 residents have died, and decided the Beehive State needed a place to isolate coronavirus patients from care centers.

“We had the vision of 20/20 hindsight looking at what happened in that home,” Burton said of Kirkland. “They kept everybody in there, and there were so many deaths. It was staggering.”

Of course, not every resident of a care facility who tests positive for coronavirus goes to City Creek. Some facilities are capable of isolating patients, Burton said, and some patients are in too poor of health to be cared for at City Creek.

City Creek offers skilled nursing for conditions residents had before contracting COVID-19. City Creek is responsible for transporting the patients there.

So far, Burton said, no one has refused to go to City Creek.

“They’re going to get care,” he said, “and they’re going to be taken care of in a sterile environment.”

Virtual calls

(Courtesy Beverly Endicott) LouDean Jolley sews in this photo taken shortly before having a stroke on April 23, 2020.

Jolley is from Fort Benton, Mont. She was visiting Endicott at her home in Lindon when, on April 23, she suffered a stroke.

Endicott said her mother received treatment in a hospital and then a rehabilitation facility. Somewhere along the way, Jolley contracted COVID-19, spurring the move to City Creek on May 8.

Endicott says she has not seen her mother in person since the stroke, and the isolation has been hard on both of them. In the first few days after her mom’s arrival at City Creek, Endicott had a hard time getting updates from staffers.

“We call and [the phone] just rings and rings,” Endicott said, “because they are understaffed.”

Eventually, an employee there began to arrange daily virtual calls between Jolley and her family via the videoconferencing tool Zoom. But there hasn’t been enough staff on the weekends, Endicott said, to facilitate the calls.

The daughter has learned that her mother is receiving physical and speech therapy in addition to treatment for any coronavirus symptoms. That’s mostly been fatigue, Endicott said. Some days, Jolley has been unable to get out of bed.

“Hats off to the nurses and [certified nursing assistants] who are working there,” Endicott said, “because who would want to work there, honestly?”

Finding qualified people who are not themselves in any of the elevated risk categories to help COVID-19 patients has been a worldwide struggle.

“The number of staff we have scheduled,” City Creek’s MacDonald wrote in an email, “is appropriate to the number of residents currently admitted, given each resident’s acuity and specific care needs.”

MacDonald said Endicott is welcome to contact him directly.

Burton said if City Creek needs additional employees, the state will find workers for it. He expects the state to keep its arrangement with City Creek through the fall.

Long-term care “facilities are still red,” Burton said, referring to the designation for the most-serious COVID-19 threat level, “just because of how deadly the virus is to those residents.”