FARGO — A resident of the south Fargo retirement community where North Dakota’s first COVID-19 victim lived said she’s not concerned about contracting the virus.
Maloye Lesmeister, 74, said her apartment on the second floor of Building A at Riverview Place is two doors down from where Roger Lehne lived.
Lehne, 93, a Navy veteran and educator, declined to be put on a ventilator after becoming ill, possibly to save it for another patient, his niece said following his death at the Fargo VA Medical Center on March 26.
Despite the proximity, Lesmeister said she has faith in God and in Riverview’s management and staff.
“They’ve taken every precaution they can,” Lesmeister said.
- Update: COVID-19 testing has begun on all residents, staff of Fargo retirement community following death of resident
She said Lehne was taken away from the facility by ambulance, and she learned of his death through a newspaper story.
Riverview Place, 5300 12th St. S., Fargo, is owned by Catholic Health Initiatives or CHI, which has retirement communities in seven states.
The facility announced it is testing all residents and staff for COVID-19 to prevent any possible spread, and Tuesday afternoon, March 31, people were seen lined up in their cars in front of the facility to receive the test from staff members wearing masks, gloves and gowns.
One person in a vehicle confirmed he had brought his daughter, a Riverview employee, to be tested.
Lesmeister received her COVID-19 test on Tuesday afternoon via a nasal swab and said it was no big deal.
“It was a little uncomfortable. It took maybe five seconds,” she said.
A statement released to The Forum on Tuesday from CHI Living Communities stated, in part:
"In cooperation with the North Dakota Department of Health, all Riverview Place residents and employees will be tested for COVID-19 to help ensure their health, as well as the well-being of family members, friends and the greater community.”
Results were expected in approximately one to two days after testing is completed, according to the statement. The facility is also under a 14-day quarantine, under the health department's recommendation.
Christine Wasserman, director of communications at CHI Living Communities based in Toledo, Ohio, said it would be the only statement provided.
Wasserman said any questions about the resident who died, including when he became ill and what areas of the retirement community he had accessed, could not be answered due to the privacy rule under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
The statement, and the test notification letter to residents, said Riverview Place is also under quarantine for the next 14 days, and residents should continue sheltering in their apartments.
Lesmeister, a native of Valley City who has two daughters and six grandchildren, has lived at Riverview for eight years.
Her husband, Michael Lesmeister, lives on the family farm near Harvey, N.D.
She said she moved into the assisted living facility in Fargo to be closer to medical appointments because she deals with health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
“If I need nursing care, I have a button to push, and they get up in a hurry,” Lesmeister said.
Meanwhile, Lehne's 84-year-old wife, Teresa, has also been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has been hospitalized at Sanford Health.
A letter that went out to Riverview Place families Monday said that, based on guidance from local and state health departments, previous recommendations already implemented will continue, including:
Suspension of group activities, including communal dining.
Restricted visitors on campus.
Daily assessments of employees when they report to work and consistent monitoring of residents for respiratory symptoms.
Additional actions include having residents schedule times to do their laundry so facilities can be sanitized between usage.
The letter also asked residents to avoid using their mailboxes, and mail will be delivered to residents directly.
They’re also asked to place their garbage outside their doors for employees to pick up, the letter said.
The last time Lesmeister saw her husband was when she and her daughter visited him at the farm March 6. The weekend before that, he was at Riverview visiting her, before the facility closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The last time she was out of her apartment was Saturday, to do laundry. Now, residents are asked to remain in their rooms and to make appointments to do laundry, so the facilities can be sanitized in between uses.
This week, family members drew a chalk sign in the parking lot below Lesmeister’s window, telling her they love her.
She’s been playing the word game Scrabble against herself to pass the time.
“I have an advantage. I win every single time,” she said with a laugh.
She said while it’s “scary on the outside” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has no complaints.
"I am in the best place I can be," Lesmeister said.
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