Washington Co. care facility asking for stricter mask mandate so residents can have visitors

The exterior of Halcyon House in Washington, pictured Dec. 13, 2020.
The exterior of Halcyon House in Washington, pictured Dec. 13, 2020.(Mary Green/KCRG)
Published: Dec. 13, 2020 at 11:00 PM CST
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WASHINGTON, Iowa (KCRG) - A long-term care facility in Washington is petitioning the Washington County Board of Supervisors to enact a countywide mask mandate in hopes of lowering the county’s COVID positivity rate.

Halcyon House staff has posted an online petition for a mask requirement, which they plan to bring to county supervisors at an upcoming meeting.

“They’re wearing a mask,” Halcyon House’s Director of Nursing, Kelsey Redlinger, said of the facility’s residents. “They’re doing everything right, and it’s other people that aren’t that is really limiting our ability to provide for our residents.”

The federal government, through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is restricting whether long-term care facilities can have indoor visits, based on county positivity rates.

Washington County is currently in the “red zone” because of a positivity rate greater than 10%, according to Halcyon House Executive Director Chris Marshall. As of Sunday night, data from the state COVID-19 dashboard showed the county’s 14-day positivity rate was 12%.

“Based on being a red county, we can’t have indoor visits or personal outdoor visits. The only visits we’re permitted to have are window visits,” Marshall said.

Marshall said Halcyon House isn’t allowed to have communal dining or group activities, either, restrictions that are taking a toll on residents, according to Redlinger.

“We’ve seen a decline in all of our residents — not just mobility-wise, but depression, mood,” Redlinger said. “All of my staff — I mean, they’ve always been their family, but they take on a whole other role now, trying to be there to comfort them throughout all of their life situations when their family can’t be here now.”

Redlinger and Marshall said a long-term care facility petitioning the county government for a mask requirement isn’t usual, but they consider it to be part of their work in caring and advocating for their residents.

The mask mandate Halcyon House would like to see in Washington County would go further than the limited statewide mandate that’s currently in place, which only applies to people who are within six feet of each other for 15 or more minutes and has several exemptions.

“We would just say, wear a mask anytime you go outside of your home,” Marshall said.

Celeste Woltering, a resident at Halcyon House for nearly three years, is in favor of the mandate.

“You betcha, I am,” she said.

Woltering said the only time she has recently been able to leave Halcyon House was for a doctor’s appointment.

Among the items on her to-do list if Washington County’s positivity rate goes down: get a haircut and meet her four-and-a-half-month-old great-grandson, whom she hasn’t been able to hold yet.

“Besides them, I’ve got three little great-granddaughters who live in Ottumwa, and when they first couldn’t come to see me, they thought I had died and went to heaven,” Woltering said, adding the girls’ confusion was cleared up when they were able to see Woltering through a window visit. “I was disturbed because I wanted to see them so bad, but I couldn’t.”

Unable to have visitors and not wanting to go outside the facility to a family member’s home, Woltering said she plans to spend Christmas the same way she has spent most of the last nine months: inside her room at Halcyon House.

If Washington County’s positivity rate declines in time for her to be able to spend the holidays with her loved ones, including the littlest one she hasn’t met yet, it would be a welcomed gift.

“That’s what I need. I just need somebody in here that I can love and hug,” Woltering said.

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