PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — In supporting Rhode Island’s response to the pandemic, Oak Hill Center in Pawtucket has worked with the state to be established as a COVID-19 specialty nursing home.

Oak Hill will now be a central facility to accept patients who are COVID-19 positive who are being discharged from the hospital and no longer require acute care. This will allow these patients to receive specialized rehabilitation and step-down, post-acute care while reserving beds for patients who need to be at the hospital.

“Our designation of Oak Hill Center as a COVID19 specialty nursing home is for patients who are leaving the hospitals going forward and being able to have a specialized location for them to continue to receive the care they need,” said RIDOH Director, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.

COVID-19 has been particularly fatal for seniors and there have been a lot of cases reported in nursing homes during the crisis. As of Thursday, there have been 18 COVID-19 related deaths at Oak Hill. Statewide, there is a total of 84 deaths in nursing homes, according to data provided by the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH).

Residents at other nursing homes who have COVID-19 will remain at their current nursing homes.

Oak Hill says they have been working on this for weeks and has no doubt faced its challenges during the pandemic.

The RIDOH says the center totals roughly 100 confirmed cases between residents and staff. Similar numbers have been seen at other nursing homes statewide.

Cathy Tupper, of Florida, says her 76-year-old mother is resting inside and has tested positive for COVID-19. Although she is largely asymptomatic, she says the idea of bringing more sick people in doesn’t make sense.

“What are you talking about?” she said. “These are elderly compromised people, that is why they are in a nursing home, why on earth would you put sick people in with them?”

Current residents at Oak Hill who do not have COVID-19 symptoms will be located in a separate unit of the facility and will have no contact with residents who do have symptoms.

“They will be located in a completely separate unit at Oak Hill with their own staff who are able to continue to care for them,” Dr. Alexander-Scott said Thursday.

Oak Hill will have an enhanced level of staffing to meet the needs of all of its residents. Staff caring for residents with COVID-19 will not be in contact with residents who do not, and they will not be working at any other facilities.

RIDOH says Oak Hill was selected for this due to the high number of cases they already have and the infrastructure to treat those patients. All residents will continue to be very closely monitored for any COVID-19 symptoms and very aggressive infection control measures will remain the standard.

“We have cohorting strategies to be able to safely care for COVID positive patients while caring  separately for the COVID negative patients and helping the staff care for the individual cohorts, or groups, of people, and make it so there is not an exchange.” Dr. Alexander-Scott said.

RIDOH will continue to work with Oak Hill’s clinical team to continuously asses patients’ admission and treatment as they continue to enforce strict sanitation standards. RIDOH is closely monitoring these COVID-19 specialty nursing homes to ensure they are following proper procedures.

“Together, we hope we can effectively reduce new infection rates among our most vulnerable population,” CEO of Centers Health Care Kenny Rozenberg said.

Eyewitness News incorrectly reported that two other facilities are now dedicated COVID-19 centers. That information has since been removed from this story.