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'They were waiting for it to get bad. And now it's bad' | Former employee says Frontier Health wasn't ready for COVID-19

A former Frontier Health employee said management didn't prepare for the COVID-19 crisis. Now, nine residents have died

ST CHARLES, Mo. — As the business manager of Frontier Health and Rehabilitation in St. Charles, Andrew Fulton dealt in numbers. But the total positive COVID-19 cases at the facility, the total number of deaths, these numbers are hard for him to accept.

As of April 15, more than 60 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 10 of those residents have died.

"There are so many things that just could have been done better," he said.

Instead of preparing for the virus, Fulton said leadership was passive, even after their first three positive cases the week of March 23.

"Basically, they said you know, it's scary. I know it's scary, but there probably aren't gonna be a whole lot of places to hide from this in the near future," he said. "You might as well just get it. And that's, that's their whole that's their whole attitude. They're treating us like soldiers in the war."

PREVIOUS: 3 residents of St. Charles senior facility test positive for COVID-19

A life-long asthmatic, he asked to work from home. He shared an email from Frontier's administrator, saying, in part, "If you are afraid to report to work, maybe you should consider other employment options."

"Yeah, we're in healthcare. And we knew what we signed up for. We didn't sign up to, like, get a preventable disease," he said. "And I was like, 'I work in billing.'"

Fulton was notified he's no longer employed at the facility as of Tuesday morning. He was still employed when he reached out to 5 On Your Side.

He's used PTO to stay home for the last two weeks, so he said he does believe things have probably gotten better in the time since he was last inside, but that just wasn't quickly enough.

"They were waiting for it to get bad. And now it's bad. And now they're catching up," he said.

READ MORE: 'It feels like I lost her' | Family worries about woman at St. Charles nursing home with COVID-19 cases

Fulton questioned whether the right people were quarantined, and if they were moved fast enough.

While management claimed publicly the dining room had closed, Fulton said the lobby and other gathering spaces remained open, and communal services like drink stations were still out. When employees were given masks, he said they were not allowed to wear the masks in patient rooms or hallways.

A spokesperson for Frontier responded to his claims in an email:

"We do not condone the things Mr. Fulton claims to have seen regarding infection control inside our facility, and we stand behind the efforts of our hard-working staff to contain the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of our residents."

They said they disagreed that Fulton could do his job from home but declined to comment on other circumstances around his employment or the email Fulton said came from his boss.

At the time of Fulton's interview, nine residents at Frontier had died — more than 60 residents and a dozen employees were infected. Right now, that's more than any other nursing home facility in our area.

READ MORE: More than half of St. Charles County's COVID-19 deaths involve the same senior health facility

"This is just poor management on our end," he said.

He also thinks the facility minimized the issue because of previous bad inspection reports. 5 On Your Side pulled the most recent, from November, which cited a myriad of deficiencies, including in "infection control practices."

"They're defenseless. I mean, they're helpless," Fulton said of the residents. "That's why they're there. If they could live on their own, they would."

Fulton said he called the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services but worries action now is still too little, too late for the people who live there.

"A lot of people, they're there because of pre-existing conditions. So, they're already weakened to this. And every, every single stop should have been pulled out to make sure that they didn't get it."

RELATED: Most coronavirus deaths in Missouri involve older people

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