All assisted living communities and nursing homes in Montana will be required to participate in surveillance testing of staff members and residents as a condition of allowing visitors, Gov. Steve Bullock announced this week, saying he would ask the state Department of Public Health and Human Services to issue an emergency order with the stipulation.
Bullock commented on social media Tuesday in a Facebook post and also as part of a group of tweets that started with the announcement of 58 positive COVID-19 cases among staff members and residents at a Billings, MT, memory care community, which he called “some of the most solemn news that we have over the past few months.” Three residents have died since the posts.
Bullock said he was “deeply concerned” about the cases at Canyon Creek Memory Care Community, which now is under quarantine. The community, owned by Koelsch Communities, adopted a new testing protocol after the cases were identified.
Canyon Creek tested all residents and staff members last Friday after a staff member recently had tested positive for the virus. As of Wednesday, the positive case count had reached 66. Thursday, the community reported the death of three residents.
In a press briefing earlier this week, Bullock said Canyon Creek was one of five long-term care facilities that did not participate in sentinel testing paid for by the state, and in a Wednesday social media post, Canyon Creek provided its reasoning.
In April and May, according to the post, three residents displaying symptoms of COVID-19 were quarantined and tested, but the tests came back negative.
“Against this background, Canyon Creek declined to participate in the voluntary sentinel testing program when it was offered by the state of Montana on June 16,” the post read. “That program is designed to test a sample of asymptomatic individuals within particular environments.”
After a resident began to show symptoms on June 30 and then tested positive, however, the community arranged for testing of all residents and staff through the state health department, according to Canyon Creek. A Tuesday social media post stated that of the 59 residents and 55 staff members tested on July 3, 43 residents and 15 staff members tested positive for COVID-19. A day later, two additional residents and six additional staff members tested positive, Canyon Creek said.
“Our community is under quarantine, and we continue to follow all recommended procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of our residents,” the post read.
Thursday, the community announced the death of three residents who had tested positive.
“As we monitor daily developments of COVID-19, we continue to rapidly respond to any issues that arise but also apply protection practices that help keeps [sic] residents and staff safe,” the post read. “This journey with COVID-19 threatening our vulnerable population will require our continued vigilance which we are deeply committed to as we strive to keep all of our residents and staff safe.”
Canyon Creek previously stated that the community “rigorously followed the guidance of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and local health officials, and continuously heightened and modified its infectious disease control and prevention protocols to assist in the prevention of exposure to the virus.”
“In mid-February of this year, protocols were put in place at Canyon Creek to help prevent the exposure of COVID-19. These preventative procedures included limiting visitation to only essential persons or in end-of-life situations, the screening of every individual upon entry to the community (including staff) for temperature, travel history, or known exposure; and an increase in both food and PPE supply stock,” the Tuesday post read.
According to the Billings Gazette, the community had 59 residents at the beginning of the week, with a capacity for 67.