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St. Croix Hospice begins COVID-19 testing for field staff

The St. Croix Hospice Brainerd office recently began weekly COVID-19 testing for all field staff, including nurses, aides, social workers and chaplains. St. Croix Hospice’s testing of its own employees alleviates the burden of additional testing for nursing homes and assisted living facilities that it services.

Manager of Clinical Services for St. Croix Hospice in the Brainerd office, Carrie Nelson (left) uses a swab to gather material from Cambie Hart, RN Case Manager for a COVID-19 test Thursday, Sept. 17. The St. Croix Hospice Brainerd office began recently weekly COVID-19 testing for all field staff including nurses, aides, social workers and chaplains. St. Croix Hospice’s testing of its own employees alleviates the burden of additional testing for nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

St. Croix Hospice officials want Brainerd lakes area residents to know they are doing everything they can to keep the most vulnerable safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the Brainerd office began weekly COVID-19 testing for all field staff, including nurses, aides, social workers and chaplains, according to Cate Pardo, St. Croix Hospice public relations coordinator.

“All 14 local staff tested were negative, which is great news for our medically fragile patients and nursing home and assisted living facility partners in the communities we serve in Crow Wing County,” Pardo said.

St. Croix Hospice offers end-of-life care and advocacy to the patient, the patient's family and caregivers across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

“We’re an independent hospice agency,” Pardo said. “The reason we did this is to alleviate the burden from nursing facilities having to test staff that aren’t actually, you know, their employees.”


Weekly staff testing comes in response to the recent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announcement requiring COVID-19 testing for all workers in skilled nursing facilities, including visiting hospice staff.

“They would have had to basically test our clinical staff, and we’re kind of taking that on ourselves and saying, ‘You guys focus on of your facility staff, and we’ll take care of our own testing, so you don’t have to add additional tests to your already full plate,’ basically,” Pardo said.

Jared Anderson is the regional director of clinical operations for St. Croix Hospice, which reaches out to patients who may not normally seek out end-of-life care, and the caregiving agency never turns away anyone who is unable to pay for hospice services, according to officials.

“Our primary patient is someone who has been given an expected prognosis of six months or less, so based off their diagnosis and their health history, their physician and their primary care team has said, ‘There is a likelihood of them passing within six months,’ that’s the qualifier for hospice,” Anderson said.

Those patients include people, for example, who are immunocompromised or have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

“We serve a patient wherever they call ‘home,’ whether that be a private residence, assisted living or a skilled nursing facility,” Anderson said.

Completing employee testing means helping to alleviate some of the workload for congregate care facilities, he said.

“We knew that our nursing home partners were going to have a logistical problem. It’s a lot to manage, you know, coordinating scheduling recurring tests on that scale, so we proactively sought out an option for our team to reduce that burden on them,” Anderson said.


St. Croix Hospice’s office locations in Minnesota include Grand Rapids, Hermantown, Brainerd, Sartell, North Branch, Bloomington, Oakdale, Mankato and Rochester.

“We’re not required to do that,” Anderson said of St. Croix Hospice-administered employee COVID-19 tests. “By us being proactive, we’re reducing the number of tests that they (nursing facilities) are required to run while still providing them the results that they’re required to have.”

The nasal cavity swab involves St. Croix Hospice staffers administering the test on themselves with direct oversight by one of the St. Croix Hospice registered nurses.

“What they do is they take the swab in a sterile procedure, which we train them on, and they insert about a half an inch into the right nostril and swirl it around for 15 seconds, remove it, insert that same swab into the left nostril, do the same process of 15 seconds,” Anderson said.

St. Croix Hospice workers who test positive for COVID-19 are immediately removed from the field to minimize exposure to others and quarantined according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“All of our staff do a daily symptom tracker where they’re monitoring themselves for any respiratory symptom as well as the temperature that gets reported to our branch directors at the end of the week unless there’s a positive symptom,” Anderson said.

“Entering hospice early has many benefits,” including symptom management, pain relief, medical stabilization and comprehensive support for patients and their families, according to St. Croix Hospice officials.

Anderson said St. Croix Hospice’s COVID-19 testing of its caregivers is to help ensure patients and others living in congregate facilities continue to be protected from contracting the potentially fatal respiratory disease.


“We’re taking this on to really be leaders in the community and do our part as far as attempting to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by us being in multiple facilities and being able to respond to patients' needs when it’s most critical,” Anderson said.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .
I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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