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CORONAVIRUS: Walton nursing home saying little about county’s first COVID-19 death

Jim Thompson
jthompson@nwfdailynews.com
Northwest Florida Daily News

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DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Citing medical privacy regulations, Chautauqua Rehabilitation & Nursing Center is saying little about the Friday death of one of its residents from coronavirus.

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The center continues to have a number of residents and staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to its own admission and to Florida Department of Health data.

The resident who passed away, identified by the Florida Department of Health only as a 94-year-old woman, was the first death from COVID-19 recorded in Walton County. Since its first positive COVID-19 case was reported in March, Walton County had, as of late Wednesday morning, recorded 51 positive COVID-19 cases, including nine cases involving out-of-county residents. Six of the 51 Walton County cases have required hospitalization, according to FDOH data.

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The elderly woman’s death came on the same day that Walton County reported five positive COVID-19 cases. That was the highest number of cases reported in a single day in Walton County until the next day, Saturday, when six positive COVID-19 cases were reported. Since then, the county has recorded just one new COVID-19 case, reported Wednesday on the FDOH website.

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A Tuesday telephone call to Chautauqua Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, located on Second Street in DeFuniak Springs, was referred to Signature HealthCARE, a Louisville, Kentucky-based long-term health care company that operates the local facility.

In an emailed response, Signature HealthCARE spokeswoman An Wilder wrote, “It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that Signature HealthCARE of Chautauqua Rehabilitation & Nursing Center confirms the loss of one of its beloved residents ... . The loss of any of our residents for any reason, is devastating and we ask the community to keep the family of our resident in your thoughts and prayers.”

Wilder went on to note that “in accordance with HIPAA (the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and other legal and privacy limitations, we cannot give out any personal information concerning our residents or staff, current or former.”

Wilder did go on to confirm Florida Department of Health data, which remained unchanged as of Wednesday morning, showing that 10 Chautauqua residents and nine staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Those numbers would mean that, as of Wednesday, Chautauqua will have accounted for nearly one-third of the county’s positive COVID-19 cases.

“Staff who test positive do not return to work until medically cleared after two negative tests,” Wilder said in the email. She went on to note that two of the staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered from the illness.

“All residents who have tested positive are being treated in Chautauqua’s separate COVID-19-only unit,” Wilder said, adding that “residents with more severe cases, such as those needing ventilator assistance, are not treated in our COVID-19-only facility. They are treated at one of our partnering hospitals.”

A Wednesday report from the Florida Department of Health indicated that, for that day, at least, no COVID-19 patients had been transferred out of Chautauqua Rehabilitation & Nursing Center.

According to Wilder, Chautauqua has a number of protocols in place aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19. those measures include what she called “a proactive facility-wide testing protocol.”

Also in place, Wilder said, is a process for daily screening of residents and others for symptoms of the disease, along with the use of personal protective equipment including gloves and masks, restricting visits to the facility, and “using alternate methods of communication for families (and residents), including telehealth, social media, and the mailing of cards and letters.”

In its regular online update regarding local COVID-19 cases, the Florida Department of Health in Walton County took note Monday of the 94-year-old woman’s death.

“We are expressing our condolences to her family and the Florida Department of Health in Walton County will continue to work with our community partners to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” stated the update.

Also in its Monday update, the county health department office urged residents to participate in the FDOH online Community Action Survey, at www.StrongerThanC19.com. According to the FDOH, the survey is designed to “improve the distribution of resources to support healthcare and other COVID-19 response initiatives across the state.”