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National Guard, Billings Clinic, help staff care facility facing deadly COVID-19 outbreak

National Guard, Billings Clinic, help staff care facility facing deadly COVID-19 outbreak

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Nineteen more people associated with Canyon Creek Memory Care in Billings have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Friday afternoon press release from Yellowstone County's health department.

Also Friday, Billings Clinic and the U.S. Army National Guard announced they would send personnel to the facility to help care for patients as more Canyon Creek staffers contract the disease.

The 19 infected include nine staff members and 10 residents, the release from Barbara Schneeman with RiverStone Health, Yellowstone County’s public health department, states. That brings to 54 the total number of new Yellowstone County cases reported Friday. 

There have been 100 new COVID-19 cases identified in Yellowstone County in the past two days.

At Canyon Creek, which specializes in treatment of seniors with Alzheimer's, dementia and other cognitive issues, the total number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is 91, including 55 residents and 36 members of staff.

Chase Salyers, a spokesperson for Koelsch Communities, which owns Canyon Creek, clarified those numbers Friday evening. A total of 55 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, five of whom have since died. And of staff, 53 have been tested, 36 of whom diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Seven of those new positive patients at Canyon Creek had previously tested negative, and another seven had tests that returned either unsatisfactory or inconclusive results, according to the release. Five people were newly tested.

Five Canyon Creek residents have died since Monday, and another four residents are hospitalized in Yellowstone County.

On Thursday, July 9, a man in his 90s died in a Yellowstone County hospital. Also on Thursday, July 9, a man in his 80s died at Canyon Creek. RiverStone Health wouldn't release any more information about the deaths, citing privacy concerns.

In response to the outbreak, Canyon Creek will receive help from the National Guard and Billings Clinic, according to a 4 p.m. press call with Billings Clinic and Canyon Creek personnel Friday.

The Guard will deploy six members to assist caretakers at the care home, and Billings Clinic will supply two nurses per shift for the next 72 hours, officials from the county's United Health Command said Friday afternoon.

The National Guard will help feed residents and perform other duties falling outside the realm of medical and memory care.

Along with the two nurses, Billings Clinic will supply certified nursing assistants, a respiratory specialist and other personnel with acute care skills as needed. In the meantime, Canyon Creek's parent company is working to fly in temporary staff from its other facilities out of state.

The Billings Clinic staff assisting Canyon Creek volunteered for the assignment and will become temporary employees of the state while on duty there, said Jim Duncan, a spokesman for the Clinic. They will be paid through the state's Disaster and Emergency Services department.

The first Billings Clinic nurses were set to begin at 7 p.m. Friday.

United Health Command officials met Friday morning to talk about the escalating crisis at Canyon Creek.

"I'd like to believe this is how we do things," said John Felton, Yellowstone County's public health officer.

Canyon Creek's two most recent deaths were reflected on Montana's COVID-19 case-tracking map Friday morning. 

“Our hearts break to announce the passing of two more Yellowstone County residents,” Felton said in a press statement. “We share in the grief of each family member and friend that has lost a loved one to COVID-19 related disease. We must never forget that each person who passes is more than a number; they were somebody’s father, mother, sister, uncle or husband. ”

Going into the week, Canyon Creek had 59 residents who were tested during a mass testing event last Friday. The facility has a capacity for 67 residents, Salyers previously told The Billings Gazette. The single-story building has 40 suites of which 27 are shared, two-bedroom suites. Another 13 are private. 

To date, at least 431 Yellowstone County residents have been reported to be infected with COVID-19, and nine have died. County health officials didn't offer details about the new cases Friday morning, but were looking into specifics.

At least seven senior care facilities in Yellowstone County have reported COVID-19 cases, according to RiverStone Health.

Statewide, there have been COVID-19 cases involving staff or residents at 15 Montana assisted living facilities or nursing homes. There are currently active cases at 10 of those facilities, according to Jon Ebelt, public information officer with the Montana Department of Public Health.

In some states, governors have granted senior care businesses immunity from being sued over their handling of COVID-19. The liability immunity in several states has been spelled out in disaster declarations of addenda to declarations. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock hasn't granted liability immunity to any businesses. The amount of immunity allowed under state law is limited.

Earlier, Bullock did say the Koelsch-owned Canyon Creek in Billings had declined sentinel testing offered by Montana. 

Koelsch’s only other facility in Montana, according to its website, is Spring Creek Inn Memory Care Community in Bozeman. According to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, that facility also opted out of sentinel testing.

When The Billings Gazette called Spring Creek Friday evening with questions regarding that decision, management had already left the office for the weekend, according to a staffer.

Koelsch has 39 facilities, according to its website.

The following Koelsch communities have reported COVID-19 cases, from April 8 to the present, according to press releases on the company’s website:

  • Canyon Creek Memory Care in Billings, Montana.
  • Meadowbrook in Arlington, Texas.
  • Arbor Hills in Plano, Texas.
  • Lakeview Inn in Bloomingdale, Illinois.
  • Northbrook Inn in Northbrook, Illinois.
  • Waverly Inn in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
  • Amber Creek Inn in Scottsdale, Arizona.
  • Copper Creek Inn in Chandler, Arizona.
  • The Park at Surprise in Surprise, Arizona.
  • Rock Creek in Surprise, Arizona.
  • El Rio in Modesto, California.
  • Sterling Inn in Victorville, California.
  • Cascade Inn in Vancouver, Washington.
  • Cedar Creek in Edmonds, Washington.
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