Over Half Of COVID-19 Deaths In Washoe Linked To One Facility

May 7, 2020

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Editor's Note: On the morning of May 7, KUNR aired the following story and reported that there have been 86 confirmed COVID-19 cases at Lakeside Health and Wellness as of May 6. The data came from a Nevada Department of Health and Human Services database. After the story aired, the number on the database was updated on May 7 to 81 confirmed cases at Lakeside Health and Wellness.

KUNR reached out to the state health department for clarification and received the following email response: "Thank you for your email and question on the Lakeside Health and Wellness case information. The total of 81 is the confirmed case count. There was a reporting error that has been caught and corrected."

Thirty-seven people in Washoe County have died from COVID-19. More than half of those deaths are linked to one facility.  KUNR’s Anh Gray and Lucia Starbuck discuss what they’ve learned so far about the novel coronavirus outbreak in Washoe County.

Starbuck: Anh, we’ve both been covering the pandemic. What we’re seeing here in Washoe County is that there are a few hot spots at private facilities that are state-regulated. Where are they?

Gray: Let’s talk about the biggest hot spot in Washoe, and that’s Lakeside Health and Wellness, which is a skilled nursing facility in Reno. Typically, a skilled nursing facility is a temporary place where patients of various ages undergo medical rehabilitation and treatment.

Based on a state database, there have been a total of 86 cases at Lakeside Health and Wellness (as of May 6th) and there have been 18 deaths of residents and one staff member, bringing the total deaths to 19. What’s important to note is that the number of deaths at just this one facility accounts for a little more than half of the 37 deaths so far in the county. Right now, Lakeside Health and Wellness has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths of all state-regulated facilities in Nevada.

I spoke to Reno Councilwoman Naomi Duerr. The facility is located in her ward and she’s received calls from a few family members who are quite concerned about their loved ones at Lakeside Health and Wellness. She described having a particularly tough call with a man who was worried about his mom and he even considered pulling her out of Lakeside Health and Wellness, but then realized it wasn’t that simple. 

"I questioned him, quite a bit, about whether he thought he had the capacity to take care of her and he said no, he actually had medical problems himself," Duerr said, "This is where many people get stuck. They don't have the physical capacity to take care. They don't have the money to hire private aides, and especially if you need around-the-clock [care], if your person's in a wheelchair or needs help for every bathroom visit, that means you have to be on call 24/7. So it's an exhausting process if you can do it.”

Starbuck: At Lakeside Health and Wellness, there are patients of all ages, from under 10 to over 70. Individuals from each age group have tested positive for COVID-19. While there are cases in every age group, the highest number of cases is in that 70-plus age group, accounting for about about 40 percent of the cases there. Based on the state data, it looks like more than half of the residents at Lakeside Health and Wellness have tested positive for COVID-19, but staff have also been quite affected as well. About 70 percent of the staff have tested positive. Did Reno Councilwoman Naomi Duerr address this with you?

Gray: Yes, she did address it with me. She has spoken to a few anonymous staff there who are quite worried about getting COVID-19 and then infecting their patients or even bringing it home to their families. She’s also spoken to management at the facility as well. 

“I've also heard from staff members who want to remain anonymous. Some have had to just go on sick leave because they were pretty sure, this is prior to testing, pretty sure that they had it and they felt like, 'I have to go isolate myself. I can't expose patients to me.' I've had those contacts. I've had people that are in administrative kind of positions, worried themselves. I think, I would say everyone there, from the director to the patients, is concerned about this situation." Duerr said.

Councilwoman Duerr said she has talked with management at Lakeside Health and Wellness and she’s putting in calls to the state to try and get staffing assistance from the Battle Born Medical Corp. That’s the group that Governor Steve Sisolak set up to recruit medical professionals to help with the COVID-19 response in the state.

Starbuck: The Reno Gazette-Journal also reported that there have been issues at the facility prior to the pandemic, which range from previous complaints of patient neglect, and state inspectors have found infection control issues like inadequate disinfecting practices.

Gray: This is what we know about other cases at long term care facilities in Washoe County: there’s also another hotspot in Reno at the Willows Spring Center, which is a residential care facility for children seeking behavioral and mental health treatment. One staff member has died there and there have been a total of 69 positive cases of COVID-19, a majority of the cases from this facility are children who are patients there.

Based on state data, there are currently 12 state-regulated facilities in Washoe with COVID-19 cases. These facilities include a range of skilled nursing, assisted living, behavioral inpatient and a children’s shelter. Of the more than 1,000 cases in the county so far, cases at those facilities account for about 17 percent of the COVID-19 cases in Washoe County (as of May 6th).

Starbuck: At a virtual press conference on April 22, Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said that there were other hot spots that the district is keeping an eye on. But he did explain that COVID-19 is prevalent throughout Washoe County.  

“I think that the bottom line is that they're throughout our community," Dick said, "It could be a store that you're visiting, it could be a warehouse where people are employed. It could be a construction subcontractor that's working out in the field, in the construction business. We have a number of cases that are identified, their employment is identified as retired.”

Starbuck: But Dick didn’t specify particularly where those hot spots are. I also want to note that Washoe County reported that there was an uptick in COVID-19 cases after Easter weekend, and some of those individuals reported having had social gatherings over the holiday. On May 1, Washoe County saw its highest number of new cases of COVID-19, with 48 additional cases. Health officials are urging people to continue to social distance with the Mother’s Day weekend coming up. 

Editor's note: The image of Lakeside Health and Wellness included in this story is a screenshot from Google Maps. View this map.

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