Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare medical director says center’s outbreak ‘will help save lives’ at other nursing homes

Coronavirus

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Henrico County has the worst case of coronavirus of any assisted living facility in the United States.

The first case popped up in early March and now the infectious disease has taken the lives of 45 residents.

“It’s not a terribly attractive position to be known as the nursing home with the most COVID deaths, but we are sharing our experience with others and that has certainly mitigated the trauma that we’ve all experienced,” said Dr. Jim Wright, the Medical Director at Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, MD, Ph.D.

The outbreak at Canterbury is now being used as an example for other nursing homes across the country to learn from.

“Knowing that what we learned is going to be used in other facilities will help save lives,” Dr. Wright said. “I would say everyone has been very interested and desperate for information from Canterbury to implement at their facility.”

As Dr. Wright shares information with other facilities, he says the root of the outbreak boils down to a lack of resources.

“Better resources is really what has made a difference at this point,” Dr. Wright adds. “A living wage for our frontline staff which would mean better staffing ratios and then funding for a better environment for our elders. Rooms that would be larger, private rooms where people can easily self-quarantine, instead of shared rooms like most publicly funded nursing homes have. All of those make a difference in the spread of the virus. And publicly funded nursing homes simply are not provided with the resources to stop the spread.”

On March 30th, every resident at Canterbury was tested for COVID-19. When results came in, more than 50 people had the virus but had no symptoms also known as asymptomatic carriers. Dr. Wright says knowing that earlier would’ve made a big difference.

“That was a big part of the spread in the building,” Dr. Wright added.

Another problem – testing.

No one had access to rapid testing which is why Canterbury was not able to quickly identify who had the virus at the beginning of the crisis. Canterbury’s testing took 11 days before results came in. Since then, Dr. Wright says testing has improved to two to five days at most.

Governor Ralph Northam has also continually mentioned the shortage of PPE and says the state is directing equipment to go to nursing homes so they don’t have a shortage.

“We are doing everything we can to support our nursing homes knowing that’s where some of our most vulnerable individuals in Virginia are,” Governor Ralph Northam said.

Dr. Wright says for the longest, the facility could not obtain N95 masks or gowns.

“I don’t even know if we would’ve been able to obtain those had we had more funding,” Dr. Wright said. “It was simply a matter of supply.”

Dr. Wright told 8News he believes in order to deal with the outbreak successfully, it would take a societal change in how we all approach long-term care funding. He also wishes society as a whole would bump up the care and respect provided to elders.

“The big thing I would do differently if this were to happen again, is I would have this nursing home be part of a society where funding for elder care is a priority and not an afterthought,” he said. “We are horribly underfunded and as a result, we are understaffed and have limited resources to battle something like this.”

During this time, Dr. Wright says he has enjoyed talking to colleagues across the country to learn what they are doing and having them learn from what has transpired at Canterbury.

“Science tries on the free flow of information and we all recognize that,” he said, “we’ve all been very open with each other and I think we’re all going to benefit as a result.”

Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Departments spoke with 8News via Zoom on how Canterbury is being used as an example for other nursing homes around the country.

“If you assign your staff to certain floors and really try to limit the total number of patients staff are seeing with their daily assignments, if and when, a facility identifies a positive there’s much less transit throughout the facility by that potentially affected healthcare worker,” Dr. Avula said. “So you’re limiting the spread by limiting the number of patients a staff member might see.”

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