One employee who works for Cordia at Grand Traverse Commons, a senior living facility in Traverse City, tested positive for COVID-19.
The coronavirus diagnostic was announced Tuesday, April 7 by the Grand Traverse County Health Department.
Cordia says it's taking measures to ensure residents’ well-being but some employees are concerned not enough is being done.
The employee who tested positive showed up to work on March 31 and had no symptoms. After finding out about the exposure, the employee called Cordia and has not returned to work since.
In a memo sent to residents, family and staff, Cordia reported that 18 out of the 100 residents may have been exposed through direct contact with the worker. Cordia President and CEO Karen Anderson says that exposure took place on March 31.
“That person raised their known exposure very early on in the process, and as a result I’m very pleased to report we have no residents living with the virus,” she says.
Although, none of the residents have been tested, she says.
In response, the facility is quarantining the residents who may have interacted with the employee leading up to March 31.
But some employees say the response to possible exposure has been too slow and not enough precautions have been taken.
Several Cordia employees spoke to Interlochen Public Radio on the condition that their names would not be used because they fear losing their jobs.
For weeks, the facility has allowed residents to dine together and continue some activities, a few employees say.
They allege the facility is not following and has not followed social distancing measures, masks are not allowed to be worn by staff and employee health is not being closely monitored.
On Tuesday, residents ate lunch and dinner in dining areas and a performance went on as scheduled with about 17 people in a room, employees say.
By this Wednesday, that changed. Meals in dining areas were suspended and residents and staff were notified of the possible exposure, employees say.
They also allege that Cordia has downplayed the possibility of the virus spreading in the facility and ignored some staff concerns.
One concern is that residents are just getting too close to each other, as some activities like choir practice and art class were still ongoing until this week.
Anderson says the facility has cancelled a number of activities and that precautions are taken for the few remaining.
“There may be a very small number of programs where we have a handful members in the room as they’re happening again adhering to appropriate social distancing,” she says. “But all of our programs for the majority of members are being broadcast over our internal channels.”
Some employees and residents have voiced concerns that staff aren’t wearing masks. A few staff who have underlying health conditions are especially concerned. But employees say they were told wearing masks would cause fear in the community, which they were told is even more dangerous to residents than not wearing masks.
When asked about the policy on masks, Anderson said that employees can wear masks in some cases — and they have protective medical masks — for instance while caring for a resident who is sick. But she says most employees are not permitted to wear them because they can’t guarantee masks won’t get contaminated.
“If somebody comes in with a homemade cloth mask and wears it all day in the building, breathing in and absorbing moisture, and then they potentially breath on another member, there is some danger in what can be done,” Anderson says.
Fears about the lack of safety precautions at work have brought employees to tears. Some employees have taken a leave of absence or dropped their shifts, for fear of the virus spreading at the facility, some employees say.
One employee told IPR that they take off all their clothes in the garage when they arrive home and shower immediately. They say they’re so afraid of infecting their family that they wear a mask inside the house.
Anderson says they are working with employees’ concerns and offering benefits when they apply.
“We know this is a stressful time and we’re so grateful for the good work (our employees) are doing,” she says. “We’ve offered a variety of programs to help them manage their stress from fitness classes to relaxation programs to employee assistance programs. We’re trying to accommodate those who are finding it really difficult to be here by taking them off the schedule.”
While other similar senior facilities, including the Grand Traverse Pavilions and Boardman Lake Glens, have mandated staff get their temperature taken regularly and are screened for possible symptoms or exposure, Cordia is not taking those precautions, employees say.
Instead, staff were required to tell Cordia any health concerns before starting work.
Employees say management has stressed that as long as workers wash their hands correctly and stay within three feet of each other they won’t pick up the virus.
But staff are concerned the positive employee may have spread the virus in the facility before the 31st. They also worry that residents who have been seen coughing may be sick.
Anderson says those members are not sick with COVID-19.
“We do not have any members that have any symptoms,” she says. “We are completely asymptomatic in the building.”
Employees say the facility can’t know for a fact people don’t have the disease, because people can have it without showing some or all symptoms, and not testing has been done.
Cordia management says they are taking precautions to limit employees to six feet of each other.
Staff have been closer than six feet to each other for weeks, employees tell IPR.
Those in dining services work close to each other and employees often eat meals together in the break room. The room is not cleaned regularly by maintenance staff, employees say.
Anderson says she reminds employees to stay apart when they see it happening. So far, she says, they are following the advice of local state and federal health officials.
“We always have clear and strong infectious disease operating protocols in place,” Anderson says. “So we are protecting against that all the time given the work we do.”