Health Care

Birchwood reports deaths of 16 residents who tested positive for Covid-19

Birchwood Terrace
Birchwood Terrace Rehab and Healthcare is on Starr Farm Road in the New North End of Burlington. Photo by Mark Johnson/VTDigger

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A total of 16 residents of the Birchwood Terrace Rehab and Healthcare in Burlington who have tested positive for Covid-19 have died over the past several weeks — the deadliest outbreak in one facility in the state.

Birchwood announced in a statement Tuesday that eight residents had confirmed cases of Covid-19 before they died, while another eight were determined to have the virus after their deaths.

The latest numbers from Birchwood mean that more than half of the total 47 people who have died from the new coronavirus in Vermont were residents at that facility or at Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center. 

The outbreak at Burlington Health and Rehab has resulted in the deaths of 10 residents who have tested positive for the virus over the past several weeks, according to the health department.

The latest numbers from Birchwood were a steep increase from the last update two weeks ago, on April 16, when the state had reported that a total of six residents at the facility had died from Covid-19. 

The state Department of Health figures currently show 14 deaths of residents at the Birchwood facility. Asked about the discrepancy, Ben Truman, a spokesperson for the health department, wrote in an email Wednesday that the two additional deaths are expected to be reported in Thursday’s daily update.

The most recent death of a resident who had tested positive for Covid-19 was on April 23, according to Alecia DiMario, Birchwood’s executive director.

Birchwood currently has 82 residents, and roughly 150 employees who work on a full-time, part-time, or per diem basis, DiMario said.

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Gov. Phil Scott said, in response to a question during a press conference Wednesday about the state’s response to the outbreaks at the two nursing homes, said “there is no playbook” to follow in such situations.

“Everything we do,” he said, “we take whatever we learn from that event and try to do better in the future.”

He referred to past disasters in the state, from the 1927 flood to Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, and noted what has been learned from the responses to those events. 

“I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from this that we’ll be able to utilize in the future as well,” the governor said. 

“You have to just go back to where we were at the beginning when we didn’t have as much testing capabilities as we do today,” Scott added. “We want to make sure that we learn from that.”

State officials outlined plans earlier in the press conference to expand testing in facilities like nursing homes. Scott said the additional testing is a move to play “offense” and take a more “proactive approach.”  

Dr. Mark Levine said at the press conference that when Covid-19 cases began occurring in Vermont, the state called for restricting access to nursing homes to help protect the residents. 

“That was done so early in the game that, I think, we did very well in that regard,” he said.

He called the number of deaths at the nursing homes “significant,” adding, “That’s a tragic outcome of this Covid epidemic.”

However, he said, the state has been “very blessed” in not seeing outbreaks in other long-term care facilities, assisted care facilities, and senior apartment complexes.

“Most states, when you start to really dig down, they’ll have perhaps one that’s very severely affected and prominent in the news and then one by one you’ll have other institutions that follow,” he said. “Knock on wood, but that has not been what we have seen in Vermont at this time.” 

Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, also highlighted the early move to restrict access visitors to nursing homes.

“We really impacted people’s lives when we did that, and we did that to save lives,” he said. “We did that early on when we saw what went on in Seattle.”  

Smith added that opening back up nursing homes to visitors will likely be one of the final moves the state takes as part of the reopening of various sectors that had been shut down to slow the spread of the disease.

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“That’s going to be one of the last steps,” Smith said. “That’s where testing is focused, that’s where the most vulnerable are.”

According to the health department’s tracking of outbreaks in the state, only one other facility is listed as having a reported death of a resident who tested positive for the coronavirus. The department reported last month that two residents of the Pinecrest at Essex senior living facility who had tested positive for Covid-19 died. 

The state health department reports a total of 59 Birchwood residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of those, according to Birchwood’s statement, 28 residents have “graduated” from “transmission-based precautions” with one discharged home, according to the statement.

Also, Birchwood stated that seven residents have had “coordinated discharges” to the hospital.

“As we share the victory in those recovering, we also share the sadness of those we have lost,” the statement read. “Our hearts are with their families, and we will continue to do everything we can to support our families, care for our residents, keep our staff safe, and prevent further spread of this disease.”

The statement added that Birchwood is continuing to work with a palliative care team from the University of Vermont Medical Center that is on the site providing additional support.

The state Department of Health statistics also show that 29 staff members of Birchwood have tested for the coronavirus. 

The outbreak at the Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center has resulted in a total of 40 residents and 28 staff members testing positive for Covid-19, according to the state’s health department. 

Burlington Health and Rehab had that number at 38 residents as of Wednesday afternoon.

Of the residents who have tested, 17 have been deemed recovered by having two negative tests, according to Lori Mayer, a spokesperson for Genesis HealthCare, the national company that owns Burlington Health & Rehab.

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Alan J. Keays

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