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Reported staffing shortage at North Smithfield nursing home leaves resident’s family concerned

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Tom Guard’s mother-in-law has been living at Saint Antoine Residence in North Smithfield for more than four years.

“We haven’t had any issues there for a number of years, and matter of fact, the facility was adequate,” he said.

But that all changed last week, when Guard said she tested positive for COVID-19.

“Earlier in the week she tested positive, so they moved her, and then moved her back, not even 48 hours later, to her regular room,” Guard said.

The situation left Guard with many questions.

“I think we need a little more transparency with, maybe upper-level management, and a little more communication,” he said. “But I do feel there are some discrepancies in terms of what is being told to us and what is actually truthful.”

While trying to figure out what as happening with his mother-in-law, Guard discovered another problem within the nursing home. He said when his wife called the facility, the nurse on the other end of the phone broke down in tears.

“We were very appreciative of that nurse giving us that information, that she was overwhelmed, and wasn’t overwhelmed from her job, it was for lack of staff,” Guard said.

Now, Guard said his objective is to ensure his mother-in-law and all of the other residents in the facility receive the quality care they deserve.

“According to the two staff members we spoke with, staff members are not coming into work,” Guard said. “They’re refusing to come to work.”

Guard wants to know how the staff that are showing up every day can receive the help they need.

“Does the Department of Health step in? – Rhode Island? – and say ‘This care is inadequate and we do need to help this facility,’ and what are the protocols to help a facility that’s struggling to take care of the patients?” Guard asked.

Joseph Wendelken with the RHode Island Department of Public Health tells Eyewitness News there are nursing homes across the state experiencing staff shortages.

“We have been working with Rhode Island Responds to get healthcare workers to support these facilities,” he said in a statement. “We have also adjusted some of our licensing requirements to allow nursing students to work in facilities as CNAs.”

When asked about the situation regarding Guard’s mother-in-law, Wendelken said: Generally our guidance is to cohort residents, meaning that residents who are positive should be kept with other residents who are positive, and residents who are negative should be kept with residents who are negative. However, we have public health nurses who work with each facility to help them manage their particular circumstances.”

Target 12 reached out to Saint Antoine Residence for comment but has yet to hear back.

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