New Hope nursing home sees 'devastating' 47 deaths from COVID-19

A brick building behind a sign.
St. Therese of New Hope said that since early April, 47 residents of the 258-bed facility have died of the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Nearly 15 percent of all the COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota are from a nursing home in New Hope, northwest of downtown Minneapolis.

In a statement released Wednesday, St. Therese of New Hope said that since early April, 47 residents of the 258-bed facility have died of the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“This has been devastating to a community that prides itself on providing quality, loving care,” said Barb Rode, the CEO and president of St. Therese.

Rode’s statement says that in each case, residents’ treatments work within advance directives, which often include “do not resuscitate” and “do not intubate” directions.

“Even after learning that their loved one tested positive, most maintained their existing treatment plans while others adopted advance directives,” she wrote. “That is in part why only a handful of our residents were hospitalized. Only one family asked to move their relative from the facility after hearing of a positive test.”

St. Therese said it has tested 100 percent of residents for the coronavirus, with the results of the final 25 expected in the next few days; 130 residents have tested positive since testing began in late March.

“Within the results we’ve seen, roughly one-third of the positive cases were asymptomatic, meaning they were living to that point with their roommate and among others in a potentially contagious state, unbeknownst to them or anyone else,” Rode said.

The facility moved all positive residents into unit and wing cohorts, Rode said.

Among the residents of St. Therese who died of COVID-19 complications was 86-year-old Frederick “Fritz” Koerner.

His daughter, Kandy Bennett, said he served in the Navy for “three years, three months and three days.”

Frederick "Fritz" Koerner, 86, died April 20 of COVID-19 complications.
Frederick "Fritz" Koerner, 86, died April 20 of COVID-19 complications at the St. Therese of New Hope nursing home.
Courtesy of the family

Koerner studied electronics at the University of Minnesota, then pursued a career in Honeywell’s aeronautics division. He worked on the SR 71 Blackbird, a reconnaissance aircraft considered among the fastest made. His work and interests took Koerner around the world, including Japan, England and Sweden, where his family lived for a few years.

He recently moved to the Twin Cities to be near family, Bennett said. After a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease he moved to St. Therese.

On April 12, Bennett's mom got a call saying her father’s roommate had come down with the coronavirus. The family was told Koerner could not be moved because he also might have the virus.

“So [his roommate] lasted from Easter when he was diagnosed until April 15. He died in the room with my dad. And my dad was tested positive on Friday,” she said.  Days before his death, the family visited through a window and by phone. 

“I got to say goodbye to him with my grandkids up here. Thursday was my last time talking to him … and he was talking fine,” as a nurse helped him with the phone. Bennett said she could tell her dad she loved him.

But she’s frustrated. Bennett understands that workers were probably doing the best they could and there wasn’t room in the facility to move people, but she wonders if St. Therese could have done more.

Sixty-five staff members have exhibited symptoms or were exposed, including 50 caregivers. St. Therese CEO Rode said all were sent home to quarantine until they were cleared to return.

Rode’s statement says the facility was audited twice by a Minnesota Department of Health infection control specialist since March 31, and were found to be in compliance both times.

The facility has close quarters, Rode said. There are two residents per room and four people sharing a bathroom.

Long-term care facilities have accounted for about 80 percent of the state’s 319 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday.

A team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has spent weeks in Minnesota advising state officials on how to curb coronavirus spread.

“We know that long term care facilities are places where extremely vulnerable residents live,” said Doug Schultz, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health.  “And they are extremely difficult situations to manage. And these deaths represent the latest unfortunate victims of a terrible pandemic.”

He said MDH has been on site making recommendations. Schultz also said St. Therese made the decision to test every resident in the facility after the outbreak.

“We are working hard to help facilities prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 among their residents and employees,” he said. “This includes sharing the latest information and guidance, and providing detailed technical support on infection control. As regulators we also hold facility management accountable for implementing and sustaining these practices to give their residents and workers the best protection possible.”

St. Therese passed its infection control survey in early April, before the outbreak began, Schultz said.

MPR News reporter Matt Sepic contributed to this story.

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