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Group homes scramble to cope with virus / November 11, 2020
The novel coronavirus has made its way into three living facilities operated by Southside Behavioral Health — one in South Boston, and two in La Crosse — infecting three residents and an untold number of staff who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Executive Director Beth Engelhorn informed county administrators in Halifax, Brunswick and Mecklenburg on Friday, of the three outbreaks, which have forced the closure of Brandon House, a group home on Poplar Creek Street in South Boston. Brandon House residents were relocated to Hope House in La Crosse, causing cross-contamination there.

A third outbreak has struck another facility, Ashley Manor in La Crosse. That outbreak appears to be unrelated to the problems that originated at the South Boston location.

The three outbreaks are not currently counted in the 17 outbreak sites reported in the Southside Health District, which spans Brunswick, Halifax and Mecklenburg counties. The Southside Behavioral Health group home infections bring the number of area disease outbreaks to at least 20.

The regional mental health agency operates two residential service centers, three group homes, two semi-independent living facilities and an intermediate care facility for people with mental illness or intellectual or developmental disabilities across the three-county service area of Brunswick, Mecklenburg and Halifax.

Due to the lack of qualified staff available to work at the unit in South Boston, either because of positive test results or illness, Engelhorn said her organization was forced to make the “tough call” to temporarily shut down Brandon House. Residents were moved to the site in La Crosse, subsequently exposing residents and staff at the facility.

She said extraordinary efforts were made to first place the three initial residents who tested positive for the virus at a long-term care facility in the area. Engelhorn said none of the local care sites said they had available beds. Englehorn said she spent two days, including many hours on the telephone with health department officials, “problem solving and looking for outside placements without success.”

Engelhorn said she and another staff member from Southside Behavioral Health (formerly Southside Community Services Board) spent most of their day Saturday providing care to group home residents in South Boston before moving them to Hope House in La Crosse. She called it a “privilege to ensure that the individuals there had the care that they needed.”

According to the protocols under which Southside Behavioral Health operates, Engelhorn said residents who become infected with the virus are to be moved to long-term care centers if space is available.

Currently, three area long-term care facilities — the former Woodview nursing home in South Boston, now known as South Boston Health and Rehab, the former MeadowView Terrace in Clarksville, now Clarksville Health and Rehab, and Berry Hill Health and Rehab in South Boston — that are experiencing outbreaks.

South Boston Health and Rehab/Woodview has 145 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff, according to the Southside Health District. There are at least eight reported cases at Berry Hill and another five confirmed cases at Clarksville Health and Rehab, site of an earlier April outbreak that led to 14 deaths.

Clarksville Health and Rehab has undergone an ownership change. As of Nov. 1, ownership of the Clarksville nursing home transferred from Sentara to Saber Healthcare Group, a for-profit chain based in Cleveland that operates senior care facilities in seven states, including Virginia. It is unknown if this change in leadership prevented the long-term care facility in Clarksville from accepting the group home residents.

Englehorn said she did not reach out to anyone at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill or its long-term care center, The Hundley Center, to see if residents could be transferred there. As of Monday, at least one person has been admitted to the hospital in South Hill.

Since the start of the pandemic, Englehorn said the staff and care providers of Southside Behavioral Health — at the agency’s administration and service coordination locations, and its associated residential and service sites — have pursued a “serious regimen” to keep the virus at bay.

At the residences, protocols include changing from street clothes to scrubs before entering, wearing surgical gowns, surgical or N95 masks and face shields, daily health checks, training on the proper way to don and remove PPE so any virus particles do not become airborne, and sanitization, particularly of bathroom facilities after each use.

Engelhorn said residents for the most part must stay in their private rooms. They’re allowed outside for walks but kept away from places where they could come into contact with large groups and be exposed to the virus, such as a big box retail store.

Residents who in the past may have eaten meals together now have their food delivered to their rooms.

“We are doing the best we can to keep everyone safe, but everybody has to do their part,” Engelhorn said. In her message to workers at the behavioral health agency, Engelhorn wrote, “we have been working with the Health Department on testing, fit testing for N95 masks, and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus beyond this.”

The local health department has advised her to keep everyone out of Brandon House in South Boston for the next five days. Health officials tell her the virus cannot live on hard surfaces for extended periods. After five days, Engelhorn said, a trained sanitization team will be sent into the house for a deep cleaning. Only then will residents and staff be allowed to return to the home.

She praised the many Southside Behavioral Health employees who “have shown great courage and dedication” and those who “have stepped up to the plate and continued to provide care” to the residents “in spite of their fear and anxiety.”

While she is not experiencing any symptoms, Engelhorn said she is quarantining at home for 14 days after her potential exposure to the virus.

Established in 1972, Southside Behavioral Health, formerly known as Southside Community Services Board, provides behavioral health, intellectual/developmental disability and substance abuse services to residents of Southside Virginia in Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties. The agency operates its infants, children and families services centers, creative innovation centers, group homes, intermediate care facilities and independent living apartments.

The 20 known virus outbreaks in the Southside Health District encompass 10 long-term care sites (including the three Southside Behavioral Health centers), five general congregant settings such as workplaces and churches, two correctional facilities, one health care site, one childcare center and one K-12 school site.

New cases have been reported slowly in Mecklenburg in recent days, with the county now up to 934 cases. The disease has claimed 35 lives locally.

These outbreaks have occured in spite of the stringent protocols that have been put into place such as:

● Wearing PPE - masks, gloves, gowns and face shields

● Changing out of street clothes into scrubs before entering the building

● Daily screens of all staff and multiple screenings of residents

● Sanitation of shoes

● No visitors in the buildings

The virus started making its way into Southside’s facilities with staff getting sick and then quickly spread to the individuals living in the home.

Southside Behavioral Health is currently in coordination with the Virginia Department of Health to have all staff and residents tested and will be working with them throughout this outbreak for additional support, as they have been since the beginning of the pandemic.

On Saturday morning, Southside Behavioral Health faced the difficult decision that many other residential and care facilities are also facing at this time: What to do with a critical staffing shortage? In this instance, Southside Behavioral Health was forced to close a facility and move individuals into a facility that could continue to provide their care.

This was a very difficult decision. Other alternative placement for these individuals in known group homes that were taking COVID positive patients was looked for. However, no other facilities had the capacity to take the individuals. In order to continue providing care, the decision was made to move the individuals to another Southside facility.

Southside Behavioral Health has offered compensation to staff for their increased risk, such as hazard pay, hotel rooms so they can isolate from their families, and allowed them to roll over unused PTO into the next fiscal year. These staff members are taking great risk and are being shown appreciation for their continued dedication to their jobs. They are the real heros.

This past weekend, due to the critical nature of the staffing shortage, the Executive Director, Beth Engelhorn and the Director of Developmental Disabilities Paul Mandel provided care to the individuals in Brandon Home because there was no staff to work at that time. If you are looking for work, Southside Behavioral Health has immediate openings.

The group home in Halifax, Brandon Home is currently closed, two group homes in Mecklenburg are having an outbreak and are under quarantine at this time. A third group home is Mecklenburg was also under quarantine due to an employee testing positive, this ended 11/9/2020. That employee did not work in the facility during the time she was contagious. This quarantine was being done in an effort to reduce the risk of spread. In the past, Southside Behavioral Health quarantined other homes as a precaution, however, no outbreaks occurred at those facilities due to quick action and teamwork from staff.

Southside Behavioral Health’s clinics remain open to the public and continue to offer services and are not experiencing any issues at this time.

About Southside Behavioral Health: Established in 1972, Southside Behavioral Health provides behavioral health,developmental disability, substance use, and prevention services to the residents of Southside Virginia in Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties. Southside Behavioral Health is committed to providing individualized culturally competent care in our communities, by supporting wellness and quality of life in a recovery-oriented environment and professional manner. Learn more at:

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i hope everyone gets well. I also hope every staff members family, sisters brothers, boyfriends, girlfriends basicly anyone they have had contact with isolate and stay home to mitigate more spread intonthe community

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