Earlier today, Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington, Jr. sparked a fiery debate online when he called for Arbor Terrace at Cascade to be shut down. The assisted living residence has made headlines as an overwhelming majority of its residents have tested positive for COVID-19.
More than a dozen residents have died, including two relatives of Councilwoman Helen Willis. According to Arrington, eight of the residents died between April 8 and April 15.
“This facility is a public health hazard and must be shut down immediately,” wrote Arrington on Facebook. “If they are not shut down today I will be there at 10 a.m. on Friday morning to demand its closure. Are we waiting on all 70 residents to die first?”
Fulton County Commissioner Joe Carn represents the district where the facility is located. He acknowledged that the staff at Arbor Terrace is working hard to respond to the outbreak, but he also shares the concerns of the family members of the facility’s residents that he’s spoken to. He has echoed Commissioner Arrington, and said he intends to also show up at the facility tomorrow.
“We at Fulton County are concerned about what’s going on at Arbor Terrace, and at other facilities,” he said. “It’s a nationwide problem. We are going to be working with the state board of health to make sure this is resolved and that there are no more deaths.”
“It’s a tough situation, but working together we can solve it,” he said.
Interventions are already taking place. Governor Brian Kemp shared earlier this month that due to the rampant spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities across the state, the National Guard would be called in to clean and mitigate coronavirus exposure.
Arbor Terrace at Cascade is one of more than 200 facilities in Georgia that have since been sanitized by the Guard. They initially arrived during the first week of April and returned again today.
Gov. Kemp has also mandated a series of protocols to be followed by long-term care facilities. But much of the guidance being provided to the staff at Arbor Terrace at Cascade is from the Fulton County Board of Health. They are monitoring the conditions of residents and staff daily. The facility’s marketing director, Shay Martin, says that the staff is implementing measures as they are directed.
In response to calls from Fulton County commissioners for the facility to be shut down, Martin says “we have to a certain extent.”
Residents are mostly isolated in their rooms and are not allowed to leave. Most daily activities have ceased. Meals can no longer be taken in the dining room. No visitors, not even family members, are allowed.
“We’re taking precautions, we go by the CDC guidelines,” said Martin. “We’re taking good care of our residents. They are happy.”
Part of helping residents at Arbor Terrace at Cascade navigate the pandemic is giving constant reassurance. Approximately 75 percent of them have dementia.
The company’s philosophy is that maintaining a consistent day-to-day structure for these residents is important for their safety and overall well-being. During a pandemic, that can be challenging and Martin says they are taking it day by day.
“The engagement director has done a good job, reassuring them, keeping them busy,” said Martin. “Virtual calls take place with family members throughout the day. Residents are engaged one-on-one or in groups of three while maintaining social distancing. And we’re doing a lot of reminding.”
While some have expressed anger and pointed fingers at how the outbreak at Arbor Terrace at Cascade has been handled, response from local leaders in South Fulton has also been compassionate.
Arbor Terrace is located in the City of South Fulton in Councilwoman Catherine Foster Rowell’s district. She has been a friend to the facility and its residents since before the pandemic. She issued a proclamation in celebration of the company’s 20th anniversary celebration just last year.
She said that she and Mayor William “Bill” Edwards have been in communication with the Arbor Terrace staff. In response, they stepped up to deliver non-perishable snacks and water to the facility with the help of community partners, including Elizabeth Baptist Church, Cliftondale United Methodist Church, Enon Baptist Church, Big Daddy’s and Willie Watkins Funeral Home.
And while the City of South Fulton is committed to supporting residents impacted by the pandemic with resources and services, Rowell said that the city is deferring to medical experts on what happens next at Arbor Terrace.
“I am genuinely concerned about the residents and understand that they are on a full shelter-in-place quarantine,” said Rowell. “The City of South Fulton will defer to the medical professionals, Dr. Ford and the Fulton County Health Department as it relates to the actions that need to be taken to contain COVID-19 and protect the seniors and the staff.”
Story developing…a response has been requested from the Fulton County Board of Health.