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The ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 within the walls of the Dubuque County-owned long-term-care center has removed so many caregivers from rotations that administration is having to look outward for help.

Sunnycrest Manor made it through the first five months of the pandemic without the coronavirus breaching its barriers. The few, isolated employee cases kicked off hurried, across-the-board testing initiatives, each of which showed no residents with COVID-19. Some staff even spent their nights on the Sunnycrest grounds so as not to risk being infected at home.

But last month, a COVID-19 outbreak started in the facility. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, 16 cases have been confirmed at Sunnycrest, though 11 of those people have recovered. A significant number of those infected have been staff members, prompting facility officials to get creative.

“Never did we imagine that ‘and all other duties assigned’ (in employment documents) would mean the social worker, the Sunrise (qualified intellectual disabilities professionals) and the activities director would be being pulled to be basic care aides,” said Sunnycrest Administrator Cris Kirsch. “Those and the finance director and the environmental services director are being trained to perform COVID testing. And the director of nursing and nurse manager have been working 12-hour days since Sept. 4.”

Members of staff stepping into other roles always was part of the plan the Sunnycrest administration developed in case of an outbreak at the pandemic’s outset. But Kirsch said no one expected one to last this long.

“When you have managers working shift, they’re not doing their own work,” she said. “We need to get back to having our managers manage, so we’re going to be in communication with staffing agencies to try and alleviate some of the staffing shortage.”

One other long-term-care facility in Dubuque County also was dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak as of Thursday.

Thirteen cases have been confirmed at MercyOne Dyersville Senior Care. According to MercyOne spokeswoman Jennifer Faley, when it comes to related staffing, the facility benefits from having a parent company.

“MercyOne Dyersville Senior Care is fortunate to be part of a unified health care system and can draw from qualified staff within the system during times of staffing challenges,” she wrote in an email response to the Telegraph Herald.

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