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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Blanding Nursing Home Sets Up COVID-19 Care Unit As Need Across State Grows

 A sign in front of glass doors says “stop"
Kate Groetzinger / KUER News
The entrance to the Four Corners Care Center was blocked during a COVID-19 outbreak in July. The center has decided to keep its secure COVID-19 unit in place.

The Four Corners Care Center in Blanding struggled to contain a COVID-19 outbreak last month after a staff member there contracted the virus.

“When they had their first positive case, the closest care center where they could have transferred that person that would have accepted them was like 6 hours’ drive away,” said Kirk Benge, San Juan Public Health Director. 

Instead of moving patients, the nursing home created its own COVID-19 unit. But it was too late. The virus affected all 33 residents, killing eight of them. While the residents who lived have now recovered, the care center has decided to keep its unit in place to help hospitals and other long term care facilities in the region, Benge said. 

The facility is one of at least five nursing homes that have become COVID-19 care sites after dealing with an outbreak of the virus, according to Dr. Allyn Nakashima with the Utah Department of Health. The sites serve other nursing homes as well as hospitals that need to move or discharge COVID-19 patients. 

“City Creek was the model,” Nakashima said, referring to a nursing home in Salt Lake City that became a COVID-19 care site after an outbreak of the virus there in March. “It’s worked very well.” 

The care sites operate like nursing homes, but the staff receive extra training in how to properly use personal protective equipment and identify when a patient is in need of hospitalization due to the disease, Nakashima said. 

So far, the state has contracted with City Creek Post Acute in Salt Lake City and the Coral Desert Rehabilitation Center in St. George to become care sites. And it is working on a contract with Harrison Pointe Rehabilitation Center in Ogden right now. 

There are a total of 138 beds across the state-contracted centers. But that’s not always enough, according to Nakashima. She said the need for the beds tends to mirror upticks in COVID-19 cases, and that the City Creek site ran out of beds last month. 

“I keep saying to the public, ‘It really does work to wear a mask,’” she added. “If people did that our numbers would go way down and you’d see much less need for this.”

The Blanding facility decided to become a care site voluntarily and does not have a contract with the state. But the Utah Department of Health did help the center set up its COVID-19 unit, according toNakashima. So far, the center has not received any outside patients into the care unit, according to a spokesperson for the Four Corners Care Center. 

As of Aug. 9, 336 of Utah’s long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes and assisted living locations, have had confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of people living in those facilities, 154 have died and 1,071 residents have tested positive for the virus. Seven locations along the Wasatch Front have at least five active cases.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County. Follow Kate on Twitter @kgroetzi

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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