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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

Urbandale nursing home: less than half of staff has been vaccinated

A relative of a resident suspects staff members at the facilities are refusing the vaccine, which they had access to in January.

URBANDALE, Iowa — The Urbandale Health Care Center's management team provided more information to Local 5 regarding the vaccination rates of staff and the disparity between the facility's coronavirus data and the state's.

A representative from Campbell Street Services, the company that took over the facility in November 2020, said the discrepancy between the state's numbers and their coronavirus numbers "is fairly standard."

As of Wednesday evening, the state coronavirus dashboard for long-term care outbreaks noted 10 cases at UHCC. But according to the facility, there are 24 cases.

"While we report to the local health department regularly, there is often a delay between our reporting and the data showing on the state dashboard."

Sarah Ekstrand from the Iowa Department of Public Health provided more context to the discrepancy.

"Reported positive cases need to have completed investigations to properly link them to a facility," said Ekstrand in an email to Local 5. "There are times when test results are clarified or updated, there are a variety of details that need to be evaluated when a case is reported and then linked to a facility."

Cambell Street Services gave new data regarding the vaccination rates among staff and residents at the facility. 

44% of staff and 81% of residents have been vaccinated at UHCC. The spokesperson pointed out to Local 5 those numbers are above the national average, according to the CDC tracking the data.

A family member of a resident at the Urbandale Health Care Center believes the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine requirement is why she has only seen her loved ones 13 times since early March of last year.

"...we cannot legally require our staff or residents to become vaccinated," said the Campbell Street Services spokesperson. "We do strongly encourage it and continue to encourage and offer the vaccine."

The facility is one of two currently experiencing an outbreak in the state, meaning three or more residents and staff have tested positive for the virus in the last 14 days. 

The family member, who will be referred to as "Jenna," asked Local 5 to keep her identity hidden to protect her loved one in the facility. 

When visits started up again, Jenna was able to see her relative on 13 days, at only 45 minutes at a time. Then, the facility was shut back down due to COVID.

 She says it's taking a toll on her loved one's mental well-being. 

"She's lonely," Jenna said. "She's getting dementia, and I think it's gotten worse." 

There isn't anything Jenna can do, though. However, she said she thinks she knows why the outbreak is happening.

Jenna told Local 5's Eva Andersen that at least two staff members at the Urbandale Health Care Center have said it was their "personal choice" to not get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

There isn't a state or federal law requiring health care workers to get the vaccine, and Jenna said she believes this is the reason the facility is currently experiencing an outbreak.

The state's LTC dashboard says the facility has nine confirmed, active cases. However, emails sent to family from the facility tell a different story.

RELATED: COVID-19 outbreak reported at Ottumwa nursing home

An email Jenna received Tuesday says seven staff members and 17 residents have tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks— a total of 24 cases within the facility. Two residents and one staff member were reported in the last 24 hours, as of Tuesday.

Since the facility won't provide answers, Jenna is left to draw her own conclusions. 

"I've spoken to staff over the last few weeks," Jenna said. "Some would say, 'Oh, well it's my personal choice that I didn't have the vaccine.' And I've heard two different staff people tell me that." 

Jenna also claims one of the staff members was in upper management.

While it is their right to refuse the vaccine, Dr. Tim McCoy with MercyOne South Des Moines said it's dangerous to do so. 

"Everyone should get vaccinated— especially if they're working in those facilities," McCoy said. "They don't spend their whole life at the nursing home, you know? So they're gonna be exposed to other people, and those other people could have COVID and they're not aware of it." 

RELATED: VERIFY: Can you get COVID-19 if you're fully vaccinated?

However, McCoy acknowledged that even if everyone is fully vaccinated, they could still contract or spread COVID-19. But that's rare. 

McCoy said it's a "potentially a huge issue" if these employees opt out of getting the vaccine. 

Since Urbandale Health Care Center didn't disclose its COVID precautions, Local 5 looked up their history on the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals to see if anyone had reported COVID-related safety violations. 

While the facility doesn't have any COVID infractions, there are several complaints listed from 2020. 

In January, the facility was fined $500 for not completing background checks on staff, including background on elder abuse, prior to their first day of work. 

In July, a report details the facility failed to provide a resident with proper hydration, resulting in the resident being hospitalized. 

Other reports included pest control complaints. 

With this history, Jenna said she thinks the facility has a pattern of not caring for residents properly. 

"They're the ones that go home every night to their family, to their friends. They're the ones that drag it back into the facility," Jenna said. 

For now, all Jenna can do is search for a different place for her loved one to live.

 WATCH: Complete coronavirus coverage on Local 5's YouTube channel