A Lewiston nursing home is the scene of a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened more than 19 people and led to at least one death, in a county where only 22 cases have been confirmed.
Tiffany Goin, executive director of Life Care Center of Lewiston, released a statement Friday saying eight residents and 11 employees have tested positive for the illness that is especially brutal to elderly and health-compromised people. Among the residents who tested positive, Goin said, was one who became ill March 25 and died later at a local hospital.
Goin said other residents and staff members have become ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and are presumed to have the illness but have not been tested.
“At Life Care Center of Lewiston residents are — and have always been — our highest priority. We remain focused on them during this unprecedented virus,” Goin said in the statement.
Across the country, COVID-19 has roared through nursing homes and taken a devastating toll, beginning with the Life Care Center at Kirkland, Wash., where 37 people died.
In Nez Perce County, the disease has killed 11 people, including one announced Friday, a person in their 80s. Those who have died have been older than 70, and most have been in their 90s. With 22 confirmed and eight probable COVID-19 cases, the county has a death rate of 36 percent, by far the highest in Idaho.
The Lewiston Tribune has requested information from public health, hospitals and care centers since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington. Goin’s statement came after weeks of questions from the newspaper, which was contacted by numerous concerned family members of both residents and employees of Life Care Center, who wished to remain anonymous.
Officials at Public Health – Idaho North Central District declined to confirm an outbreak at Life Care Center or any other facility, citing privacy concerns. Nor would they confirm the high death rate was linked to nursing homes, but they did point out such facilities are vulnerable.
On Thursday, Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen told Idaho Public TV reporter Aaron Kuntz Nez Perce County’s high death rate was related to eldery victims in a care facility.
“There is a number of people who have contracted the virus over 90 with underlying complicating health conditions, that is what is driving that death rate to be a little bit higher than we would like it to be,” he said while appearing on Idaho Reports with Gov. Brad Little. “Our prayers and thoughts go out to the families — a terrible experience for them and we certainly feel for them, but that seems to be what is driving that in a long-term care facility in Nez Perce County.”
Goin said the seven residents currently at Life Care who tested positive for the illness are isolated and recovering. One of the employees who tested positive has recovered and been cleared by state and federal guidelines to return to work. The others are recovering at their homes.
The facility had been monitoring patients and staff for symptoms of the disease before the first case, Goin said. When symptoms appeared, the afflicted patients were isolated from other residents and employees were quarantined.
Goin said the families of residents were promptly notified of the outbreak.
“We began notifying our families, residents and associates as soon as we found out,” she said in the statement.
Goin’s statement, which had to be approved by Life Care Center of America in Tennessee, made no mention of the condition of patients or staff members who were presumed positive but not tested.
Monty Spears, a 74-year-old Harpster resident, told the Tribune on Wednesday his father, Jack Spears, 93, died from COVID-19 at Life Care Center on April 6.
Spears said his father’s wife, who also lives at Life Care Center, tested positive for COVID-19, but is “still hanging on.”
Goin said some residents and staff were not tested because test supplies have been limited locally and nationally.
According to information provided by Niki Forbing-Orr, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Welfare, 21,920 Idahoans had been tested for COVID-19 through Tuesday. But only 597 people in north central Idaho had been tested, the second lowest among all seven of the state’s health districts.
Forbing-Orr said whether an individual is tested is up to that person’s health care provider, but providers have been advised that only people with symptoms should be tested.
“The testing supplies are limited, and it’s hard to get some of the supplies the labs need to run the tests,” she said.
Carol Moehrle, director of Public Health – Idaho North Central District, said testing criteria are tighter for samples sent to the state lab than at private labs.
“Our hospitals and clinics sending test samples to the state of Idaho lab are following the prioritization of testing from (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state guidance for high-risk individuals, those hospitalized with symptoms, health care workers with symptoms, individuals over age 65 with symptoms. Any providers can send samples to commercial labs based on the practitioner’s assessment,” Moehrle said via email.
Elsewhere in the region, Asotin County public health officials announced a new case of COVID-19, its 12th. Brady Woodbury, public health administrator, said the patient is a woman in her 50s who is not hospitalized.
Whitman County did not announce any new cases Friday. There are 14 confirmed cases there. The Nez Perce Tribe and Garfield County remain without confirmed cases of the illness.
Barker may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker. The Tribune’s Kerri Sandaine contributed to this story.