VIVIAN, La. – Paula Walker, a licensed practical nurse at Vivian Healthcare Center, got a call to come to work on a Saturday. Looking back, she believes that was around the end of March.
Staff at the nursing home in north Caddo Parish were asked to prepare a section of the facility to separate residents who test positive for COVID-19.
“We didn’t think that it was going to be as severe as it was,” Walker said.
According to Walker and an outside doctor involved in Vivian Healthcare’s effort to contain the spread of the deadly virus within the home, infection swept through the home faster than it could be controlled.
Dr. Stephen Taylor, an emergency physician affiliated with North Caddo Medical Center, assisted nearby Vivian Healthcare with its response.
“It struck very quickly and very hard,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, 10 deaths attributed to COVID-19 occurred within two weeks at the home. Vivian Healthcare reported a total of 10 deaths to the Louisiana Department of Health, according to the state’s most recent report on COVID-19 cases at nursing homes released Monday.
Before the crisis took hold, Walker struggled with the idea of working directly with COVID-19 patients.
“I was asked to work the COVID floor, and at first I did say ‘no’ because I was worried about my mom and my dad, my kids, my husband,” Walker said. “But I went home and I thought about it, and I thought, ‘I can’t leave the residents like they are.’’
Walker said she worked in the COVID section of the nursing home for about two weeks.
“We lost about four or five (residents) in the two weeks that I worked the floor,” Walker said. “In particular, there was one that his family was outside the window and singing to him as he passed. That really, really, really was hard for me.”
After the two weeks, Walker said she began to feel “a little sick,” and was sent home from work.
Easter Sunday, Walker said she went to the emergency room, where she tested positive for COVID-19. She was not admitted to the hospital, but said she was very ill with chills, fever, a cough and shortness of breath.
“At one point I thought, ‘Am I going to make it?’” Walker said. “I prayed every night that I would get better. Being a healthcare professional, it was really hard for me to be the one that was sick.”
Two weeks after being sent home, Walker said she was healthy and able to return to work. She said she has tested negative for the coronavirus since her illness, and has tested positive for the antibody.
According to the health department’s reports, Walker was one of 14 employees at Vivian Healthcare that tested positive for COVID-19. The report states that all 14 have recovered.
Of the home’s 44 residents as of the health department’s first report on nursing home cases dated may 18, 28 residents had tested positive for COVID-19, of which 10 died. The number of cases and deaths remained the same on Monday’s report, though the home now reports a total of 47 residents in the home.
“We fought the battle,” said Joe Gimenez, a spokesman for Nexion Health, which owns Vivian Healthcare.
In an email to KTBS, Gimenez said the COVID-19 unit of the home was created “upon identifying the first resident with positive symptoms.”
Gimenez also explained that staff members were provided training on COVID-19 mitigation, and “on-site inspection control surveys were passed with flying colors.”
KTBS has requested from the health department reports on recent visits to Vivian Healthcare, but still has not received those records.
In addition to Taylor’s assistance, LSU Health-Shreveport provided support for the home’s response. Taylor said LSU procured COVID-19 tests for residents and staff before testing was widely available, something Taylor attributes to the home’s ability to contain the duration of the outbreak.
According to Gimenez, 383 COVID-19 tests have been conducted at Vivian Healthcare. The home currently reports zero cases within the facility.
"In my opinion, there’s no rhyme or reason to this disease,” Walker said. “We don’t know where it came from, we don’t know how it got into our facility."
Walker said her sense of taste and smell returned in May. She said her experience on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle has bolstered her confidence in her employer.
"They helped us get everything that we needed,” Walker said. “We came together as a big family and I wouldn’t have it any other way."
Her experience did, however, shake her confidence in the ability of face coverings to prevent the spread of the virus.
"I do not believe in the mask. I wore the mask faithfully before I got COVID and through working the COVID floor," Walker said. "I do wear it in the facility but I do not wear it out in public."
Gimenez said all employees are encouraged to wear masks in public, practice social distancing and wash their hands.
"COVID is real. A lot of people second guess COVID and say, ‘It’s just something – it’s not real. They’re just making it up,’ or, ‘It’s like the flu,’” Walker said. “It is real. COVID is 10 times worse than the flu. You just need to wash your hands, and just pray to God that this goes away and you’re not going to get it."
Vivian Healthcare Center is not currently named in any lawsuits related to COVID-19.