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Five COVID deaths at Wisconsin home for religious sisters with dementia

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CNA Staff, May 1, 2020 / 03:28 pm MT (CNA).- Within the past month, a Wisconsin retirement home for religious sisters with dementia has had several sisters die and four staff members test positive.

Our Lady of the Angels Convent in Milwaukee has seen five resident deaths due to the novel coronavirus. In all five cases, the virus was discovered after the time of death.

The five sisters who have died of the virus are Mary Collins, 95; Marie Skender, 83; Mary Sherburne, 99; Annelda Holtkamp, 102; and Bernadette Kelter, 88.

In early April, the home had temporarily stopped testing its residents, who are mostly dementia patients, because the experience was traumatic for them, the New York Times reports. At the time, the only test that was available in the area involved a cotton swab inserted through the nostril into the back of the throat. The test can be painful, and some residents were reportedly combative when it was administered.

There have been nearly 7,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wisconsin, and more than 300 deaths as of April 30. Health officials have emphasized the importance of monitoring the residents of retirement homes, as the elderly and those with underlying conditions are particularly at risk from the virus.

Sister Collins initially developed a mild cough on April 3. She passed away three days later, but only received a coronavirus test postmortem, which came back positive. The New York Times reported that the staff had attempted to administer the test earlier but, due to her dementia, she was “too combative to tolerate” it.

Michael O’Loughlin, a spokesman for the home, said the assisted living facility has strictly followed guidelines in caring for the residents.

“They are very aware that the convent’s residents, who are elderly and receive specialized memory care, are a vulnerable population, which is why the convent suspended all communal activities and enforced social distancing long before any of the residents tested positive for Covid-19,” he said, according to the New York Times.

Darren Rausch, the director for the Greenfield Health Department, said Our Lady of the Angels has kept in close contact with his office and, from the beginning, followed the advice from his department. This includes isolating those who tested positive for COVID-19, monitoring residents’ temperatures and symptoms, and using personal protective equipment.

“It’s definitely very challenging,” Rausch told the New York Times, noting that the patients’ dementia has added a layer of difficulty, as “[t]hey can’t always vocalize what’s going on.”

Since the deaths, the convent has resumed testing for every resident of Our Lady of the Angels, and some have even been tested multiple times, O’Loughlin said.

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