An investigation is under way into accusations that Carter Place employees were ordered to report to work at the facility during the COVID-19 outbreak even though some were showing symptoms of the illness.
Three Rivers Public Health Department has linked 19 cases of COVID-19 to the assisted living facility.
Washington County Attorney Scott Vander Schaaf told the Enterprise his office was contacted by the health department with information about possible issues at Carter Place, 1028 Joann Drive. Vander Schaaf said he asked Blair police to initiate an investigation into the events that transpired at the facility.
Terra Uhing, executive director of Three Rivers Public Health Department, confirmed her agency had received complaints from employees. After receiving complaints, Uhing said she contacted Carter Place officials.
“I told them they could not work if they were symptomatic,” she said.
With a number of employees exposed to the illness and needing to self-isolate, Carter Place did not have enough staff to operate.
“They were in a critical shortage,” Uhing said.
That shortage led state and local health officials to temporarily close Carter Place and move the healthy residents to CHI Health Midlands in Papillion. The residents are doing well, Uhing said.
“It was a difficult scenario and we did what was necessary for the health and safety of the residents,” Uhing said.
In less than a week, the disease had spread through the facility. The first case was a woman in her 90s, who tested positive March 23. A second case was confirmed the next day.
Three Rivers Public Health Department officials began and completed an investigation in that timeframe. During that time, Uhing said she was in constant contact with Carter Place employees to see if more residents were exhibiting symptoms. The facility, Uhing said, was to check residents' temperatures every eight hours and staff members were to be screened for symptoms
On March 25, Uhing was told no residents were showing symptoms, but one resident was taken to Memorial Community Hospital and Health System.
On March 26, employees were told they still needed to report to work even though some were showing symptoms. It wasn't until the next day when they received the temperature logs from the facility that health officials learned several residents had been running fevers.
However, Uhing stressed, the facility provided information to the health department when asked in a timely manner.
“They were forthcoming,” she said. “They weren't trying to hide anything.”
A Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services investigation found Carter Place was in compliance with infection control requirements. An April 2 letter to the facility's administrator said the facility did implement “recommended interventions to protect residents from infection and provided education to staff regarding COVID-19.”
“We are continuing to work in partnership with local health officials on enhanced COVID-19 training and other steps as we prepare to re-open the community in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson for Enlivant, the company that owns Carter Place said. “The health and safety of both residents and staff always has been and continues to be our top priority. This has been a difficult situation and we’re grateful to our local and state partners who are supporting Carter Place with continued guidance.”
The spokesperson said they were unaware of any investigations.
Three Carter Place residents died prior to the first COVID-19 positive case. Two of the deaths were hospice patients with underlying health conditions. The third was an unattended death. However, both Uhing and Vander Schaaf said too much time had passed to determine if their deaths were related to the outbreak.
“It's unclear if COVID-19 played a part in those deaths,” Uhing said.
Vander Schaaf said he could not speculate on possible charges related to the outbreak until he has more information. However, he said that there are criminal sanctions, including negligent caretaking and elder abuse, which could be filed.
“The safety of our community is our focal point,” Vander Schaaf said.