An Illinois memory care community is defending itself after local and state public health officials linked its COVID-19 outbreak to four recent cases in a nearby county after a resident attended a birthday party off site. Community representatives, however, said that appropriate measures were taken before and after the resident’s outing.

The experience is an example of the challenges senior living communities can face in ensuring resident safety and when health officials have varying views of guidelines.

A resident at Reflections, a memory care residence by the Villas of Holly Brook, which offers assisted living, memory care and respite care, attended a birthday party at a private home in nearby Piatt County recently, against the advice of the community. The community since has seen at least 25 COVID-19 cases, and health officials have said the resultant COVID-19 outbreak in the nearby county also is linked to the party and the Reflections resident.

Les Douglas, senior vice president of operations at the Villas of Holly Brook, said the “inference” that a resident from the Savoy, IL, Reflections community was the source of the outbreak in nearby Piatt County “was purely based on contact tracing with no medical information to support this conclusion.”

“The resident and family were warned of the potential hazards and risks associated with leaving our community. They disregarded our concerns and went to a private event,” Douglas told McKnight’s Senior Living, adding that the community does not have the authority or ability to “prohibit” a resident from leaving. “As per our policy, the resident was quarantined upon return to the community, per [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines,” he said.

Officials from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District also raised issues with the testing firm used by the community, indicating that the choice resulted in delayed test results that could have led to increased disease spread.

Douglas said the local health department required the community to follow its protocol of submitting samples directly, and that the health department’s subsequent submission to the state lab “caused serious delays in reporting results.”

“We also received multiple false reports from the local health department concerning testing and the results,” he said. “When we questioned the local health department concerning these delays and reports, we requested alternative options for testing. It was at that time a local provider was identified and we were allowed to seek testing through their laboratory.”

Awais Vaid, deputy administrator and epidemiologist with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said local health departments only receive test results and start case investigations within 24 hours.

“We have conducted multiple site visits in person with the facility to ensure they understand the guidance and are following up,” Vaid told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We have also asked them to change their lab testing location from a third party to the local hospital lab, which has a much faster turnaround time. Currently, they are complying.”

Douglas said it was “very unfortunate” that public health officials would publicly accuse a senior of spreading the virus without factual information to support those claims.

“We, like many other providers and employees in the senior industry, strive to provide quality service and care to our residents,” Douglas said. “These are challenging times, and the facts and correct information are critically important to all of us, whether we are a resident, employee or a company.”