by Doug McClure
CRAFTSBURY – After a COVID outbreak in mid-December infected 15 residents and 14 staff, the Craftsbury Community Care Center (CCCC) as of Sunday had gone nine days without a new positive test in the facility, according to board member Penelope Doherty.
Doherty clarified those 29 cases do not necessarily count towards Craftsbury’s total count of 38 cases as of Friday; many staff do not live in Craftsbury and would not be included in the community total.
The community itself experienced a separate outbreak, but as of last Friday, the case count had not increased for a week.
Doherty, who is working with others to help the facility deal with the outbreak, said that her mother, Eva Church, “this little fluffy thing from Ireland,” is among those who took ill. Church celebrated her 90th birthday on December 4. After the first group of residents tested positive, a second round of positive results included Church.
Doherty said her mother has Alzheimer’s which complicates mask wearing and other precautions, but that she is doing well on the treatments. “She’s from Ireland, and she went through World War Two there, sometimes wearing gas masks,” Doherty said. “When asking me early on why we all had to wear masks, she said ‘Well, dear, at least they’re not gas masks, right?'”
CCCC and the Hardwick Area Health Center (HAHC) coordinated quickly from the outset regarding an advanced treatment for COVID, monoclonal antibodies. The FDA approved their use in November and describes monoclonal antibodies as “laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses.” Church was one of the first residents who received the treatment.
“They do [COVID] tests on Tuesdays and Friday with results usually in the first half of the next day,” explained Doherty. “My mom’s test was on Tuesday. I had her results by 10 a.m. on Wednesday. By late that afternoon, I had a message from Care Center staff asking me to research monoclonal antibodies and ‘can you be on Zoom at 8:30 a.m. with the doctor’?”
The HAHC is Church’s primary care provider. Doherty said that Thursday HAHC looked at the requirements for eligibility to receive monoclonal antibodies, “oxygen levels, etc., all the things that are required,” and “by Friday morning we were headed to Saint Johnsbury to get [the treatment]. I couldn’t believe how fast they all moved.” The Care Center arranged transport for Church and another resident eligible for the treatment. Due to COVID protocols, Doherty followed behind to sign papers.
“That morning it was zero degrees out. I brought a bunch of blankets and sat in my car outside and waited.” The treatments are administered at the Northeast Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury. “The infusion itself takes an hour and they observe for at least an hour to make sure no allergic reactions [occur]. It took longer overall with check-in and getting everybody settled, but apparently it went very well,” Doherty said.
Doherty said Care Center staff went to great lengths in a short time frame to facilitate the monoclonal antibody treatment once recommended for more residents. Monoclonal antibody treatments, in this case Bamlanivimab, have specific eligibility requirements and also a very short window when they can be used effectively, with a major objective being keeping patients out of the hospital — especially critical in older age groups.
“I have nothing but praise for this organization,” said Doherty of CCCC. “I love being on the board. I did the crisis response logistics in Texas for Family Protective Services for a long time, and I’m amazed at how calm, how deliberate, how gathered Care Center staff has been. They are so committed to the best possible outcome and direct resident care, which is why Board President Jane Marlin and I, along with other board members, are helping with questions and non-care logistics as much as possible.”
Doherty said the state itself has provided constant support to CCCC. The Care Center is scheduled to receive vaccines for residents and staff at the end of January, and again in February and March.
Beyond the medical side of responding to the outbreak, Doherty said a personal toll taken on the staff at the facility. Because CCCC is quite small, staff develop one-on-one connections with the residents.
“It had been a hard year for residents and families already, with several losses before the outbreak, and so also a really hard year for staff,” Doherty said. “One of the great things about this care center is that staff know residents’ habits, wants, likes, needs, and senses of humor. And it is very much like their family. So, when a resident passes or leaves for another level of care, staff can go through a grieving process as well.”
When staff are able to leave and go home, Doherty said, she hopes they can avoid bringing home the stress of the experience with them. “They’re so upbeat while they’re here. It’s just always amazing. But this is wearing on them, too,” she said.
The select board commissioned a sign thanking CCCC staff and volunteers, which has helped buoy spirits, Doherty said. Families have also been very supportive of their loved ones at CCCC. As for her mother and other residents undergoing treatment, Doherty said “she’s stable and others are stable. To me, it’s a testament to the care that Vermont and Care Center staff are providing. Our best wishes are with everyone who’s going through this.”