Billings nursing home preparing for boost in COVID-19 testing

Posted at 9:25 PM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 18:15:30-04

When COVID-19 began taking a devastating toll on nursing homes across the nation, including a Montana facility in Toole County where an outbreak resulted in almost half of the state's deaths, David Trost’s reaction was as you might expect.

“I was heartbroken, and I was fearful,” said Trost, the CEO and president of St. John’s United, a large nursing home and assisted living facility in Billings.

“No matter how many precautions we put into place, we are only one staff person, one guest, one resident going out to a grocery store, away from a cascading effect of multiple people getting infected,” he added.

In the couple of months since COVID-19 became a part of all our lives, multiple changes have been made to limit visitors and screen everyone coming on to the campus.

“For our residents, they have been pretty darn fantastic. They have been patient with us with all our interventions. They have been extremely compliant in making sure the community stays safe. Actually the hardest it has been is families and friends. They are suffering more with being separated from their loved ones here,” said Trost.

Guidelines have recently been put into place to allow for some outdoor visits and soon testing will begin for everyone. That's a huge task, with 600 residents at St. John’s and 700 staff. It’s part of Gov. Steve Bullock’s goal to administer 2,000 tests a day in the state, focusing on nursing homes, tribal communities as well as continuing to test people with symptoms.

“For us our testing will be done in phases. We will start with our staff, those are the folks who are most at risk with being out in the community and then we will move to our residents. And we will try to meet the governor’s goal of having our testing of our nursing home and assisted living as close to the end of the month as possible,” said Trost.

Trost says he is grateful that the state took the early actions it did and believes it is one of the major reasons why there have been so few cases in Montana.

“We took protective measures as a whole community prior to the upslope of the curve. And now that we are on the downslope of the curve, we just have to always be mindful as we engage each other in an open community and open business that we are respectful of each other. And be mindful that we are a source of infectiousness to other people,” said Trost.

Trost says that they have been holding regular Zoom meetings with health officials and with other nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area to figure out how to stay on top of this and also help each other out.