A third resident of a nursing rehabilitation center in western Henrico County has died and nearly a dozen more patients and four health care workers have been infected by a COVID-19 outbreak in a highly vulnerable population.
Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center confirmed the third death Wednesday, a day after the announcement that two residents had died from the virus, which attacks the respiratory system and has killed more than a dozen Virginians.
Dr. James Wright, Canterbury’s medical director, said in a statement Wednesday that 14 residents have tested positive in the past 11 days and two of those patients are currently hospitalized. Nine others are receiving treatment onsite at Canterbury in an isolated unit.
“The safety and health of Canterbury residents and staff is our primary concern,” Wright said. “We are working directly with local and state health departments and taking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control protocols to help contain further spread of the virus.”
Henrico public health and government officials say the crisis is far from over at the facility. An additional three residents were taken to local hospitals on Wednesday and dozens of other residents are showing symptoms associated with the virus, said Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas.
Wright later confirmed that three additional residents had been transported to local hospitals on Wednesday, but declined to speculate on the number of potential cases until test results are confirmed.
“Many of these patients will need hospital intervention,” said Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. “They will need acute care.”
Henrico officials said they were heartened by an hourlong conference call on Wednesday afternoon with representatives of the facility and its owner, Marquis Health Services, based in New Jersey. Marquis also owns skilled nursing centers in Alexandria and Colonial Beach on the Northern Neck.
“We have a great line of communication now,” said Vithoulkas, who had voiced frustration after being unable to reach the facility operator after learning of the initial deaths on Tuesday.
The conference call also involved the leaders of HCA Henrico Doctors’ Hospital as local hospital systems prepare for a potential surge of critically ill patients and a potential shortage of nurses and aides to care for them in local nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.
“We have 41 nursing homes in our county,” Vithoulkas said. “As we move forward, we are going to have to make sure that staffing is not an issue.”
Avula said that officials at VCU Health System also consulted with Canterbury representatives on Wednesday, as public health, local government, businesses and higher education institutions rallied to help the beleaguered nursing facility.
Wright said Canterbury is taking part in initiatives with VCU, Bon Secours Mercy and HCA to increase staff experienced in palliative care.
He said the facility has also partnered with GENETWORx, a private lab in Glen Allen, for expedited testing that will cut the process from up to 10 days to under 48 hours.
“Department of Health officials are working to get in touch with more nurses and we’re more confident today than last week that we will have everything we need to continue providing care to our patients,” Wright said.
Vithoulkas said he personally has talked to businesses and other institutions about supplying skilled health care workers, and the response has been overwhelming.
“As difficult as this is and will be in the days ahead, what I’m seeing is goodness,” he said. “It’s the goodness of Richmond and our region.”
Avula said the center has worked closely with his team after reporting the first positive coronavirus case a week ago. The situation has worsened since he held a news conference on Thursday to report the case. Epidemiologists arrived at the center the next day.
Canterbury reported an additional three to four positive cases over the weekend and the number grew to 10 by Monday, he said.
“This is a pretty overwhelming situation for them. ... Everybody is acting with the right intentions,” Avula said Wednesday.
Avula said the center’s leadership was “exceedingly proactive” about measures to stop the spread of the virus in the facility, which houses about 160 people, many of them elderly and frail.
“They’re doing a great job of staying in touch with the families,” he said after the conference call.
He said the situation there is different from Westminster Canterbury, a retirement community in Henrico near Richmond’s North Side that reported a confirmed case of COVID-19 last week.
Canterbury Rehabilitation is devoted to direct care of vulnerable residents, including physical and occupational therapy that requires hands-on contact. In contrast, Westminster Canterbury is a continuing-care community that is home to more than 800 people, most of them in independent living quarters.
“It’s a totally different, apples-and-oranges situation,” Avula said.
Local officials are waiting for a determination by the Virginia Department of Health on how to classify 20 residents that the rehabilitation center said Tuesday were showing symptoms of the coronavirus but had not been tested.
“Is there a need to test these individuals or, because of their symptoms and contact with others, do we call them suspected or probable cases?” Avula said.