Family concerned after North Branch senior living center announces it will begin care for COVID-19 patients

Ecumen North Branch will soon be caring for COVID-19 patients in a section of its senior living facility.

Families are raising concerns after a North Branch senior care facility unveiled plans to house and care for COVID-19 patients. 

So far, 554 of the deaths reported in Minnesota come from long-term care facilities. Those in long-term care account for around 12 percent of the state's coronavirus cases, but more than 81 percent of the state’s deaths.

As senior living centers around the state fight the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities, an Ecumen North Branch official says there have been no positive cases in the building - yet. 

“We’ve not seen any cases, and now we’re seeing the increase of the cases in the community, we feel called upon that this is part of our service to the community,” said Brett Anderson, the chief ecosystem and operation officer at Ecumen.

That service is opening up a section of the building as a care area, where residents can be cared for if they get the virus, but also where external patients with COVID-19 can come in and receive care.

“Why are you doing this to a place that you have been so protective of and have no COVID patients?” said Gary Swanson, whose father is a resident at Ecumen.

His father, Ken Swanson, has lived in Ecumen for two years now. Ken will turn 100 years old in roughly three weeks. 

“In February was the last time we hugged him, held him,” said Gary Swanson. “We haven’t been close to him in months. We’re trying to protect him, and the other residents too, they all need protection.”

Officials with Ecumen say they’ve done all they can to make sure residents and staff continue to have that protection by having staff dedicated to just the COVID wing and making sure the care area is well equipped.

“We’ve added some additional walls, doors, and accommodations for break rooms,” said Anderson. “HVAC and air handling systems and taken into account the unique things that deliver food and laundry to the space.”

Despite the preparation and separation, Gary Swanson still says his family and his father aren’t comfortable with the decision. 

“Everybody is concerned,” he said. “To bring sick people into the building, I know it’s a separate wing, but it’s still the same building.”

According to officials with Ecumen North Branch, the wing will be able to hold up to 16 patients and there will be dedicated staff caring for those patients. They are still trying to finish up some construction in the care area before they bring in any COVID-19 patients.