National Guard Continues Nursing Home Disinfections

Bill Nichols State Veterans Home (Source: Health Management Resources)

Since being activated about a month ago, Alabama National Guard teams have completed nearly 130 disinfection missions at nursing homes around the state as part of an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Lt. Col. Tim Alexander, public affairs director at Guard headquarters in Montgomery, said in an email that teams of airmen and soldiers assigned to a special task force had carried out 128 nursing home missions. Alexander said 46 other missions were “in progress,” a term that has multiple meanings. Among other things, it can mean a team is taking a survey of a nursing home or that a team is conducting a disinfection mission at a facility.

About 450 airmen and soldiers are involved in the effort, which the state Department of Public Health announced April 17. In a news release, the department stated that Guard teams would “disinfect nursing homes that have COVID-19 positive residents and employees and will train staff on the techniques of donning and doffing personal protective equipment.” It added that “resources and need” would determine “the number and frequency of missions the teams perform.”

A number of nursing homes around the state have been hit hard by the virus. According to information provided by Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers, 221 residents in long-term care facilities have died after contracting COVID-19.

John Matson, a spokesman for the Alabama Nursing Home Association, said last week the association was “aware of 126 nursing homes across 57 counties that have reported at least one COVID-19 positive resident or employee.”

The COVID-19 figures have been much larger at facilities such as the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City. Bob Horton, assistant commissioner at the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, said 23 deaths at the facility have been attributed to COVID-19. Overall, 91 residents and 41 employees have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. Twelve of those employees have returned to work, Horton said.

Bill Nichols is one of four state veterans homes that house about 700 veterans. Guard disinfection teams have completed operations there, at the Col. Robert L. Howard Home in Pell City and at the Floyd E. “Tut” Fann Home in Huntsville. A team is expected to visit the William F. Green Home in Bay Minette this week. Three employees at Green have tested positive, but no residents have tested positive. No residents or employees have tested positive at the Howard or Fann homes.