Senior care facility hit hard by COVID-19 deaths increases infection prevention efforts

On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz declared it the deadliest day so far in the COVID-19 pandemic.

And it’s up to the Minnesota Department of Health to track exposure at congregate-care facilities, such as nursing homes or assisted living centers. There are more than 90 locations statewide where cases have been found so far.

One of the hardest-hit locations is Saint Therese in New Hope. It’s a sprawling campus with many group living facilities where the residents are seniors, often frail and at least 12 of whom have passed away after falling ill with COVID-19.

"Everyone is a life, a story," said Walz.

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With the heaviest known concentration of death at Saint Theresa, caregivers taking a break outside shared that it’s been hard on them.

"We are used to them and they’re not here now," one worker said. When asked if more people have died, a worker replied "yes."

In an official statement, Saint Therese acknowledged some residents and employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Statewide records show a majority of the 179 patients who lost their lives have been in a long-term care center.

When prompted about measures being taken to protect people from becoming sick or passing on illness, a caretaker listed off the essential items.

"We wear gowns, PPE equipment, use goggles, face shields and masks," they said.

Saint Therese also set up a COVID-19 information hotline with a recorded message where callers can learn about ongoing infection prevention efforts.

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"We’ve closed the building to all visitors, canceled activities involving outside visitors, and restricted congregate gatherings," the recorded message says.

Plus, all infected residents have been quarantined to one localized unit. Sanitation has been upped and staffers are screened for signs of illness before each shift and they can’t leave the campus until their day is done.

MDH has assigned an infectious disease expert specifically to Saint Therese to consult on guidelines and best practices.