Cape Town frail-care homes mourn four residents killed by Covid-19

14 May 2020 - 15:40 By Aron Hyman
Highlands House, in Vredehoek, Cape Town, has had 12 residents and 26 staff test positive for Covid-19. One of the residents has died.
Highlands House, in Vredehoek, Cape Town, has had 12 residents and 26 staff test positive for Covid-19. One of the residents has died.

At least four senior citizens who were infected with Covid-19 have died in Cape Town frail-care homes.

Residents and staff from Nazareth House and Highlands House, both in Vredehoek on the slopes of Table Mountain, are reeling after the deaths.

A Nazareth House resident died on Friday, bringing the total number of people who died at the facility to three, and at Highlands House a resident died early this month.

Management at both facilities say there have been shortages of testing kits, which has made it difficult to respond to the outbreak.

At least 13 staff who worked at Nazareth House’s The Villa premises, which houses individuals who are mentally frail and suffer from dementia, tested positive for Covid-19 after the first resident died on April 28.

Nazareth House has reported the deaths of three residents and positivie tests for at least 13 staff.
Nazareth House has reported the deaths of three residents and positivie tests for at least 13 staff.

Nazareth House management said the resident, who suffered from dementia, was terminally ill before she was infected.

Three other residents who tested positive were placed in an isolation ward where one of them later died.

The resident who died on Friday was not housed at the frail care facility and management said though the resident was terminally ill, they showed no Covid-19 symptoms.

Both retirement facilities say they took advanced precautions long before the lockdown restrictions were announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 26.

At Highlands House, 12 residents and 26 staff have tested positive for the virus, which has a disproportionate mortality rate for elderly people in comparison to the rest of the population.

“I'm sure you can understand how this unprecedented challenge affects every resident and staff member in unique ways and triggers a different reaction from every individual,” said Highlands House executive director Harris Burman.

“It presents a smorgasbord of mental and emotional responses. At this time, ensuring the safety and comfort of our residents is paramount.

“To date, we have had one resident pass away due to Covid-19. We received her test results the evening after her passing. Upon confirmation of the results, we immediately sent home any and all staff who may have had contact with her.

“On Sunday, May 3, we isolated the relevant floor of the site and Pathcare was given access to test 31 people, both staff and residents. Sufficient test kits were not available.

“All 12 residents with positive test results were isolated on-site upon confirmation of test results. They are receiving all services in their rooms and do not leave their rooms. Nursing staff are closely monitoring them and each resident is attended daily by a doctor on site. Staff attending to these residents have been provided with appropriate personal protective equipment.”

Burman said staff who tested positive were sent home for isolation and were being monitored by health authorities.

“Our Covid-19 response team is led by Dr Leon Geffen, a well-respected GP among our staff, residents, and residents' families,” he said.

“All our other residents are confined to their rooms for the time being. Our mentally frail residents are confined to their floor of the building, as the nature of their frailty does not allow for stricter confinement.

“The necessary treatment and precautions to avoid the spread of Covid-19 within any of our facilities have been strictly implemented, as we understand the seriousness of this virus, and have done everything in our power to protect our residents and staff from the spread of Covid-19.”

In a press statement, Nazareth House management said they, like the rest of the world, were in “uncharted territory” in dealing with the pandemic.

The results from tests in the rest of the retirement home had not yet arrived. “We are presently experiencing the same delays that everyone is experiencing in obtaining the test results,” it said.

“The lack of availability of swabs for testing and the delay in receiving the test results is detrimental to the speed of responding to the outbreak and the investigation, and further results in staff and families becoming extremely anxious and in a state of panic.

“We have experienced that the practical application of testing all residents and staff has further not been forthcoming and has resulted in other challenges, responsibilities and risks to the organisation.

“We confirm that there has been no outbreak of the coronavirus in any of our other care facilities.”