Fears Grow As Coronavirus Cases And Deaths Mount At A West Suburban Nursing Home

Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in west suburban Willowbrook
A total of 50 people — 34 residents and 16 staff — have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in west suburban Willowbrook, according to the DuPage County Health Department. Seven residents have died from the disease. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ News
Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in west suburban Willowbrook
A total of 50 people — 34 residents and 16 staff — have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in west suburban Willowbrook, according to the DuPage County Health Department. Seven residents have died from the disease. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ News

Fears Grow As Coronavirus Cases And Deaths Mount At A West Suburban Nursing Home

A seventh resident at the Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in west suburban Willowbrook has died after testing positive for COVID-19, the DuPage County Health Department reported Friday.

The nursing home has been in the spotlight since its first resident tested positive three weeks ago. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Illinois Department of Public Health and the DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) descended upon the nursing home after that initial case was discovered, according to Ron Nunziato, CEO of Extended Care, the company that manages Chateau.

“We were fortunate to have the support of those three agencies for a week,” Nunziato said. Public health officials conducted on-site testing from March 15 through March 19.

In all, 50 people associated with Chateau — 34 residents and 16 staff — have tested positive for COVID-19, the DCPH announced Friday. Seven residents have died. Relatives and friends of Chateau’s 108 residents are no longer allowed to visit to prevent the spread of the virus.

The mounting cases and deaths, coupled with communication issues and the lack of access to their loved ones, have sparked questions and concerns from relatives who fear they are only getting a glimpse of what happens inside the nursing home.

“What is the status of the residents that are in there now?” asked Donna Armellino, whose 93-years old mother is a resident at Chateau. “There are sick people there and the staff has challenges, great challenges to help these people through the hump.”

Armellino said she can’t get answers to pressing questions: Were the residents who tested positive separated from those who tested negative? How are residents being screened for symptoms? Is on-site testing of residents still going on?

She worries her mom could have the virus, too. “My mom had [a temperature of 102 degrees.] I didn’t find out about it until the next day,” she said.

Nunziato told WBEZ this week that the county has not prescribed more testing for anyone in the building.

“If they have signs and symptoms, that indicates that they now might have become positive, they may be sent out to the hospital and the hospital may test them when they get there,” Nunziato said.

Armellino’s mother tested negative for COVID-19. But she wasn’t informed that her mother’s roommate could have been positive or that she passed away, Armellino said. She had to call the roommate’s family directly.

“Ron Nunziato said that all the positives were housed in one area together, in one area of the floor, which is absolutely not true,” Armellino said.

Nunziato said that was the case at first.

“In the initial staging of it, we were trying to separate the positives from the negatives,” he said. “However, the county and CDC recommended that they be left in their rooms for 14 days.”

Nunziato said it was a precautionary measure to guard against spreading the virus in case there were false negatives in the testing.

“DCHD advised that neither a resident with positive results or their potentially exposed roommate with a negative result should be moved to be roomed with another resident with unknown or negative COVID-19 status,” said Dr. Rashmi Chugh, a DCHD medical officer.

Armellino said she was kept in the dark about that. She said she understands how unpredictable testing can be, but she wants the center to communicate with relatives when there’s a change in strategy.

When she tries to get more information about how the center is dealing with this crisis overall, Armellino said she doesn’t always get answers. She joined a Facebook group for relatives to get an idea of how other residents are doing inside.

Bob Gallo, the director of AARP Illinois, said he has heard similar concerns about the lack of communication at other nursing homes in the state.

“Communication is extremely important not just from the administration to the family members, but the family members being able to communicate with their loved ones,” Gallo said. “[Relatives] feel as if they are not getting the information and communication they need to ensure their loved ones are getting the best possible care.”

At the very least, Armellino said she just wants the center to share success stories like when residents recover from the virus.

Nunziato said his staff continues to make one-on-one visits. Other activities like crossword puzzles and word search are still happening.

But he agrees the most challenging part of this crisis has been educating people and communicating while everyone including the staff, residents and their relatives have fears and concerns.

Before Chateau was hit by the COVID-19 crisis, Armellino visited her mom regularly. “I am there religiously, twice a week on Wednesday afternoons and on Sundays,” she said. “I bring her the Chicago Tribune’s sports section, and I also cut her hair.”

That all changed with the outbreak.

Family members can schedule calls and arrange video chats, but Armellino said that system doesn’t always work.

She worries that her mother is suddenly alone and is now isolated just like many other residents there. “I wonder how their mental health is,” Armellino said. “I am sure they feel abandoned.”

Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @AdrianaCardMag.