Communications concerns after 12 COVID-19 deaths at The Fountains in Crystal Lake

Phil Hinz remembers his mother, Marie, as being a women’s liberator even before it was a mainstream concept.

A retired employee from Walgreens, she worked at a time when most women were staying home.

“Mom was a very independent woman, a very strong woman,” Phil Hinz said

Marie Hinz died Friday, April 24, of COVID-19, two days shy of her 94th birthday. According to numbers reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there have been 12 COVID-19 deaths associated with The Fountains, the highest total in McHenry County.

She had been diagnosed that Monday, and on Tuesday morning, Phil Hinz got a phone call from The Fountains at Crystal Lake, where his mother had been staying, saying she had been taken to Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital.

Phil Hinz said The Fountains seemed to treat his mother well while she was at the facility.

But a week after his mother died, Phil Hinz received a correspondence that he said put up a red flag.

Phil Hinz said communication he received said that The Fountains now were including a screening process for their employees, six weeks after residents were quarantined to their rooms. It made him wonder why they weren’t doing that before.

“[When] someone says we changed our policies and now we are screening our employees – what does that make you think?” Phil Hinz said. “What were you doing before? Now you put these in place – what was your policy prior to that?”

The executive director of The Fountains could not be reached for comment, but Vicki Doyle, public relations manager for Watermark Retirement Communities, which operates The Fountains at Crystal Lake, said COVID-19 screening for associates was instituted on March 12.

However, the communication Phil Hinz received after his mother’s death made him think there was no screening, or very little, at the facility, even after this time.

Phil Hinz said other emails from The Fountains, noting the discrepancies between what IDPH was reporting and what The Fountains said about the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the facilities, started to puzzle him as well.

In one email he received April 25, The Fountains claimed the IDPH erroneously reported 66 cases at the facility. Instead, they said, there were actually 19 residents and 10 employees who had tested positive.

“Somebody says there’s a conflict and I have nothing to weigh [it] against,” Phil Hinz said.

Phil Hinz said he thought The Fountains were handling the situation properly until the point they started saying the reporting of positive cases was inaccurate.

“The only information I was getting from them and then when I started getting newsletters that there were conflicts, and inaccurate information ... says who?” Phil Hinz said.

Like many other places, The Fountains put an end to visitations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so these newsletters Phil Hinz was getting were his only source of information while his mother was there.

Some of this discrepancy in case numbers came about because when the IDPH first started reporting the amount of COVID-19 positive patients at long-term care facilities, their count included those who had been exposed to the virus and had symptoms, even if they hadn’t been tested.

However, some facilities only reported the residents and staff who had officially tested positive to families. This is why the numbers some other facilities were reporting were lower. However, in May, the IDPH started only counting laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

“The health and safety of our residents and associates are our highest priority,” Doyle said in the statement. “Communication with our residents’ loved ones is of utmost importance and if family members have questions, we encourage them to contact us. We are committed to the well-being of everyone at our community.”

Leah Philpot, who lives in Aurora but was born and raised in Crystal Lake, also expressed concerns over what she saw at The Fountains when it came to her grandfather, who has been there for over a year now.

Philpot said she talks to her grandfather over Messenger, and he has a Portal account the family has used to video chat with him since visitations ended.

Since the pandemic began, Philpot said she has seen people go into his room with no masks or gloves when she video calls.

Philpot said this was after the first notice that they had an outbreak there, when the amount of residents and staff at The Fountains was said to be 66. It now is 38, with 11 deaths.

“After there were the first group of people that were sick, at The Fountains, [when] they came and checked his temperature, the girl that took his temperature didn’t even have a mask on,” Philpot said. “And I saw it happen more than once when I was calling him.”

A couple of times, Philpot said, her grandfather accidentally has pressed his emergency button. When the person came in to respond to him, she had no mask on and no gloves, Philpot said.

“If they’ve come in contact with someone who’s sick ... they don’t want to spread that around,” Philpot said. “You’ve got to be changing your gloves between rooms.”

Doyle said that staff at The Fountains has been wearing personal protective equipment since March 30, though Philpot said she saw people without it in April.

Watermark said it is using several supply chains to provide its facilities with PPE, including traditional vendors, local public health agencies, Offices of Emergency management and a central supply warehouse in its offices in Tucson, Arizona.

On Thursday, the IDPH filed emergency rules mandating COVID-19 testing in long-term care facilities. Each facility also will be required to develop and implement a testing plan to better protect vulnerable residents and “ensure no facility is shirking its responsibilities for those in their care,” the state agency said in a news release.

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