Spike In COVID-19 Cases At Wisconsin Veterans Home Spurs Request For Federal Aid

Federal Nurses Called In After 41 Staff And Residents Test Positive

Eva Davis peaks with her daughters at a nursing home
Eva Davis, 94, middle, speaks with her daughters Lori Hall, left, and Elaine Krohn, right, outdoors at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, Wednesday June 10, 2020, in Boston. Elise Amendola/AP Photo

Nurses from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have been brought in to assist staff at one Wisconsin Veterans Home. State VA officials called for help after 42 staff and residents tested positive for COVID-19.

There are currently 20 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Union Grove in Racine County. The facility has also had 22 staff test positive for coronavirus, according to Mary Kolar, Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary.

“We reached out to the federal VA. I personally talked with the director of the Milwaukee VA Hospital and got assistance of up to 20 medical professionals who are able to help us,” said Kolar on WPR’s “The Morning Show.”

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“So that will get us through the stretch of having staff out with the coronavirus,” she continued.

In May, Kolar reported there had been no cases of the virus among residents and staff prior to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the state’s “Safer At Home” order. Racine County currently ranks among the top five counties with the most cases of COVID-19, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The Wisconsin National Guard will be assisting with testing at the Union Grove facility on Friday and Saturday of this week since staff had previously been responsible for conducting COVID-19 tests. Capt. Joe Trovato, spokesperson for the National Guard, said they will have about 360 tests available.

“Ultimately, we’ll have more than enough testing supplies to handle anybody that needs to be tested at that facility,” said Trovato.

Kolar told WPR’s “The Morning Show” that she believes cases of COVID-19 have begun to level off at Union Grove, but she repeatedly urged people to do their part to control the spread of the virus. Security is preventing people who aren’t providing care from visiting the facility, including family members of veterans who were visiting loved ones outside their windows.

So far, three residents who tested positive for the virus have died. But, Kolar emphasized those who contracted COVID-19 were already receiving end-of-life care.

“COVID is just another thing thrown on their bodies that they have to fight,” she said.

Positive cases of COVID-19 have also been confirmed among 25 staff and residents at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King in Waupaca County, which were predominantly among those who were asymptomatic. Kolar doesn’t anticipate a similar request for nurses at King due to the difference in size and layout of the facility.

She noted Union Grove has around 150 residents compared to roughly 475 at King.

“We are able to have people in isolation in a completely different hall that we have available at King,” said Kolar. “So, it’s a little different situation based on the size at King, but that is an option that we will use if the situation results.”

The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs is posting updates on its website about COVID-19 transmission at its veterans homes. Kolar added IT officials are also working to improve notification of family members about the status of cases via email rather than its typical means of communication by mail.

The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs serves around 345,000 veterans and their families. The U.S. Department of Veterans has diagnosed at least 37,600 veterans with COVID-19 out of more than 514,000 veterans and staff who have been tested, according to the agency’s most recent report. Federal VA officials have deployed personnel to more than 45 states, including 590 staff to state veterans homes nationwide.

As of Monday afternoon, there are 299 active investigations out of 570 that have been conducted at the state’s long-term care facilities, according to DHS.