CONNEAUTVILLE — A staff member at Rolling Fields Elder Care Community has tested positive for COVID-19, according to officials at Heritage Ministries, the Gerry, New York-based nonprofit that owns the senior-care facility.

The COVID-19 case was discovered Saturday, according to Jeremy Rutter, Heritage’s chief clinical officer, and within hours, family members of Rolling Fields residents were notified.

The woman who tested positive “does not have any direct care responsibilities,” Rutter said in an interview Sunday.

“This is a support service, ancillary person who doesn’t have, for the most part, any patient or resident contact,” he said.

The Rolling Fields case was detected as a result of a round of state-mandated testing of all residents and staff members. Rutter said that results have been received for the majority of the tests, with only one case discovered thus far.

The employee, who Rutter said is asymptomatic, has primarily been working from home for the past two weeks but also worked three days at Rolling Fields.

“She spent the majority of that time in her office,” Rutter said. “When she did come out of her office, she was wearing the proper PPE source containment with mask and eye protection.”

For Paul Aubel of Conneaut Lake, news of the positive test was troubling confirmation of what he feared when Crawford County entered the green reopening phase on May 29. Aubel’s 87-year-old mother, Nancy Aubel, has been a resident at the facility since October.

“It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when,” Aubel said Sunday. “I knew this was going to happen.”

Aubel said he hasn’t held his mother in more than three months and has spoken to her only over the phone or through a window at the facility. The message he received Saturday evening informing him that the employee who tested positive had little or no contact with patients — though likely meant to be reassuring — was frustrating, according to Aubel.

“The whole thing has been, ‘You’re not allowed in, you can’t see your mother,'" he said. “But as soon as it happens, it’s like “But don’t worry about it, because she has limited or no (contact).'"

According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 25 percent of the state’s 81,956 confirmed COVID-19 cases have occurred in residents or employees of long-term care facilities. Of the state’s 6,579 deaths from the disease, 69 percent have been linked to such facilities.

Rutter said the Rolling Fields employee would remain quarantined for 10 to 14 days or until she tests negative twice and would likely continue working from home until she can be released from quarantine.

Contact tracing was being performed to investigate the source of the employee’s infection, according to Rutter, but no positive contacts had yet been identified.

“My intuition is that this was acquired out in the community, not in the building,” Rutter said, citing the lack of additional positive cases at the facility.

Heritage has 11 senior-care facilities in four states, some of which already have experienced cases of COVID-19, according to Rutter. Preparations already were in place at Rolling Fields both to prevent the disease from entering the building and to address any cases that arise among residents.

“We’re to the point where if something happens in-house, we should be able to contain it pretty well,” he said.

The COVID-19 case was not a reflection of poor preparations, Rutter said, but of the fact that “there is a pandemic going on.”

There has been some resistance to testing in the nursing home industry, Rutter said, but Heritage supports widespread testing.

“I would prefer to know if we have it,” he said. Following the positive result, testing at the facility would continue on a weekly basis until no additional cases are detected.

Aubel said he hoped to see even more frequent testing at the facility.

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

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