Nurse at assisted-living facility urges RI to test all healthcare workers for COVID-19

Coronavirus

NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Maureen Flanagan takes pride in the fact that the assisted-living facility she works at is taking the risks of the coronavirus seriously.

She said staff members are screened daily and are wearing personal protective equipment at all times. The facility also has a strict no-visitor policy because of the pandemic.

As the director of nursing at Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Assisted Living in North Providence, Flanagan helps care for 30 residents, all of whom she describes as elderly and vulnerable to COVID-19.

Flanagan said while she and her collegues are doing all they can to protect both the residents and each other, she’s worried that’s not enough.

“We’re still coming to work every day and we don’t want to bring anything in here unknowingly,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan is concerned about putting her residents in danger without even realizing it since those who are infected with the coronavirus don’t necessarily exhibit symptoms.

The facility has been feeling eerie, Flanagan said, especially since a dark cloud has been cast over North Providence due to an outbreak at another facility in town.

Flanagan feels that everyone working on the front lines of the pandemic, whether they’re showing symptoms or not, should be tested. Right now, tests in Rhode Island are only provided to only those who are symptomatic.

“I couldn’t stand to see how things were being handled, it just didn’t make sense to me and nobody I was speaking to as well,” Flanagan explained.

She believes testing all essential employees, especially nurses and healthcare workers, will play an important role in preventing the virus from spreading.

“In the perfect world, everybody gets a test, right? But that’s not possible,” Flanagan said. “If we start with prioritizing the people on the front lines so that we’re not continuing to carry it and disperse it and transmit it to people without knowing, and then maybe the most vulnerable population.”

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health, tells Eyewitness News that right now, the majority of those being tested in Rhode Island are healthcare workers.

As of Wednesday, Wendelken said 257 of Rhode Island’s positive COVID-19 cases are healthcare workers, accounting for 18% of the state’s total number of cases.

He said healthcare workers and first responders are being prioritized for testing statewide, but right now they’re still only testing those who are experiencing symptoms. The health department has also previously said testing results for people who are asymptomatic aren’t as accurate as results for people who are symptomatic.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently opened up at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro for first responders who are showing symptoms. Flanagan said Rhode Island should open up similar testing sites for both healthcare workers and first responders.

Flanagan said her concerns mainly revolve around the fact that testing everyone working with vulnerable populations is the only way to keep them safe and stop the spread.

She vows to continue caring for her residents to the best of her ability, and said thankfully, none of her employees or residents have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms.

“The population is the Greatest Generation,” Flanagan said of her residents. “They seem to be able to get through anything, so we’re just trying to channel some of their courage and help them get through it without being anxious.”

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