Coronavirus and the Cornerstone community: What you need to know


In the wake of growing nationwide concern over the Coronavirus outbreak, we wanted to take a moment to address some of those concerns as they pertain to Cornerstone of Recovery and our sister facility, Stepping Stone to Recovery.

We find ourselves in a unique position: We’re a medical facility with a population of immune-compromised individuals who have come to us for addiction and alcoholism treatment. At the same time, our facility is open to visitors who come here for family visitation, voluntary aftercare groups, 12 Step organizations, recovery community meetings and other events that we’re honored to host.

Because of growing concerns over the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19):

UPDATE, 9 a.m., July 22

Cornerstone of Recovery continues to monitor the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation and make adjustments regularly to meet new challenges and changing situations. The Cornerstone of Recovery COVID Task Force meets weekly to discuss new protocols and patient care recommendations in an effort to maximize the safety of both patients and Cornerstone staff members. Mask protocols remain in place campus-wide for employees, and potential admissions are questioned about possible COVID-19 exposure during their initial contact with our Admissions counselors.

In addition, Pyle added, "We will still continue to request pre-admission nasal swab COVID-19 testing for those coming to Cornerstone from high-risk regions of the country and/or who work in high-risk industries, on a case-by-case review."

Those high-risk states include: Connecticut, Washington, New York, California, Arizona, Louisiana, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts and Georgia. Potential patients who travel frequently to those areas, such as employees of the railroad and aviation industries, will be asked to submit negative COVID-19 test results as part of their admissions process.

UPDATE, 5 p.m., July 13

The COVID Task Force at Cornerstone of Recovery has made the recommendation that COVID-19 antibody testing will begin for all admissions to residential treatment. The Cornerstone nursing staff is being trained this week on the procedures for this testing, according to Travis Pyle, Cornerstone's Director of Medical Services. The testing will be introduced as part of the Admissions process within the next week, Pyle said, and will indicate "if a patient had a past infection with COVID, or if they have a present infection with COVID, pending they have had the infection long enough to develop antibodies, which can take anywhere from 3-14 days."

However, Pyle cautions, the antibody tests have a relatively high rate of false positives, meaning that any new patient that presents with a positive antibody for current infection will be quarantined until a second test can be sent off for further determination.

"Regardless of this new testing, in light of the time antibodies take to develop, I want to ensure we do not get a false sense of security just because a patient tests negative," Pyle says. "We all must continue our diligence with social distancing and mask wearing."

In addition, Pyle added, "We will still continue to request pre-admission nasal swab COVID-19 testing for those coming to Cornerstone from high-risk regions of the country and/or who work in high-risk industries, on a case-by-case review."

Those high-risk states include: Connecticut, Washington, New York, California, Arizona, Louisiana, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts and Georgia. Potential patients who travel frequently to those areas, such as employees of the railroad and aviation industries, will be asked to submit negative COVID-19 test results as part of their admissions process.

UPDATE, 11 a.m., May 7

Within the next week, Cornerstone of Recovery will begin testing all patients during the admission process for COVID-19 antibodies. According to Travis Pyle, Cornerstone's Director of Medical Services, "While this type of test is not a definitive, it will give us good insight and guidance on how to proceed with the admission and will mitigate some level of risk to staff and other patients."

In anticipation of this testing, the following new guidelines are now in place at Cornerstone regarding staff and patient cloth mask-wearing:

  • Cornerstone staff members are now required to wear cloth masks when within 6 feet of patients, or giving direct patient care. Masks are not required while working 6 feet apart from one another or working alone in their respective offices, but staff members are certainly encouraged to wear masks at all times, if they feel more comfortable doing so.

  • Social distancing protocols remain in place between staff and patients whenever possible. Mask protocols are IN ADDITION to social distancing measures that encourage distance between staff members and patients whenever possible.

  • Starting next week, cloth masks will be distributed to patients upon their arrival, and at this time wearing those masks will be voluntary. That may change as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve. Patients will be provided with one cloth mask — and only one cloth mask! — to keep and care for during their stay at Cornerstone of Recovery. IN ADDITION: Potential patients coming to Cornerstone for admission are encouraged to bring their own masks, if they have one and if they so wish.

"If this guideline is not followed, or if COVID-19 becomes more prevalent in our area, we will need to resume wearing masks at all times," according to Pyle. "The primary goal is to ensure we mitigate as many risks as possible to keep staff and patients safe."

UPDATE, 11 a.m. April 7

As part of our ongoing efforts to protect the treatment communities at Cornerstone of Recovery and Stepping Stone to Recovery from the threat of COVID-19, we will be implementing a new drop-off procedure for items and packages intended for our patients. All items being dropped off for patients in either facility will need to be delivered to our facility at: 1140 Topside Road, Louisville, TN 37777. Packages and items will ONLY be accepted during the following times:

Tuesdays: From 9-11 a.m.

Thursdays: From 5-6:20 p.m.

Saturdays: From 9-11 a.m. AND from 2-3:30 p.m.

Staff will be present during these designated times to accept deliveries, and the items will then be delivered to the appropriate campuses, where they will be searched and screened per our usual protocols. Items will NOT be accepted at any other time, except those that patients bring with them when they arrival for Admission. Thank you for your understanding!

UPDATE, 8 p.m. March 30

New admissions should, upon arrival at Cornerstone of Recovery, park in front of the Polly Bales Building and notify Reception that you have arrived. (New admissions to Stepping Stone to Recovery should park in visitor spots at the front entrance to Stepping Stone and do the same.) An Admissions representative will meet you in the covered parking area in front of the building to take the temperature of the arriving patient and administer a COVID-19 pre-screening questionnaire.

PLEASE NOTIFY ADMISSIONS IMMEDIATELY IF: You have traveled outside of the United States recently, or if, in the past 14 days, you have visited the following states: Connecticut, Washington, New York, Louisiana, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Arizona, California or Georgia.

FAMILY MEMBERS: Please note that during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, we will no longer be allowing family members into the Admissions area of the Polly Bales Building. This isn't a decision we take lightly, but we want to protect both our existing patient population and you from possible infection. We do, however, want you to take as much time as you need to bid farewell and wish your loved ones well before they are brought inside for Admission, and we look forward, as we're sure you do, to a time in the near future when these measures are no longer necessary. Thank you for your understanding and patience. 

UPDATE, 2 p.m. March 16

Until further notice, all following Aftercare groups and meetings are canceled, including:

  • 9 a.m. Aftercare on Tuesdays at Cornerstone of Recovery;

  • 6 p.m. Tuesday family support groups at Cornerstone;

  • 10 a.m. Aftercare on Wednesdays;

  • 6 p.m. Aftercare on Wednesdays;

  • 6 p.m. Parents In Empowered Recovery group on Wednesdays at Cornerstone;

  • the 6 p.m. Professionals Aftercare group that meets on Thursdays;

  • the family support groups at Stepping Stone to Recovery at 6 p.m. on Thursdays;

  • all Sunday family visitation at Cornerstone and Stepping Stone;

  • the Topside Group of Alcoholics Anonymous, which meets at 7:30 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays in the Polly Bales Building;

  • and the Without Parallel Group of Narcotics Anonymous, which  meets at 7:30 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays in the Polly Bales Building.

  • NOTE: The Dharma Recovery group that normally meets at 7 p.m. Saturdays at the Polly Bales Building has temporarily suspended its in-person meetings as well. 

“We need everyone to understand what we’re doing to keep the community safe and continue doing what we need to do to serve people,” says Cornerstone/Stepping Stone CEO Steve McGrew. “People are dying of addiction, and we need to get them into treatment, but at the same time, we have to protect our community. For the time being, we will reevaluate the situation every Monday and make adjustments to our plans based on the information we have on hand. Our goal is to continue to meet our standards of patient care by providing addiction recovery while doing the next right thing to keep our patients safe.”

Needless to say, the complexities of maintaining our open door policy while protecting the health, safety and privacy of our patients are immense. Our patients, of course, are our priority: They are the reason for our existence, and while the Coronavirus is certainly a concerning illness, the diseases of addiction and alcoholism are deadly. Keeping our doors open and our operation running smoothly and safely are paramount so that we can continue to offer a new way to live for those who are desperate for recovery.

So what are we doing to keep our patients safe?

coronavirusOur precautions begin before they even arrive. We’re not admitting anyone who shows signs of the virus or who may be at risk for infection from admitting at this time. These include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Recent travel outside of the United States or to affected areas in the U.S.
  • Recent contact with anyone infected with COVID-19 or influenza

We have placed posters about the Coronavirus — means of infection, methods of prevention, signs and symptoms — around campus to educate our staff and our patient population. We have hand sanitizer stations in all of our facilities, and we’re discouraging personal contact — handshakes, hugs, etc. — between one another. We’re emphasizing recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) regarding hand washing. And should any patient exhibit any symptoms — or Coronavirus or any communicable illness such as influenza, which we deal with every year — our medical and housekeeping staff take extra precautions, such as:

  • Early identification: Being proactive about possible illness within the patient community.
  • Quarantine: Sick patients are confined to their rooms, without a roommate, during their illness. All medication, meals and other essentials are delivered to their rooms. In case of a severe outbreak, we will adjust our room assignments to quarantine all cases to a single residence wing.
  • Housekeeping: Staff strips linens and cleans patient rooms multiple times a day, including wiping down all surfaces with a bleach/alcohol solution.
  • Increased medical monitoring: Nursing staff checks patients every two hours.

In essence, we follow Standard Precautions as laid out by the CDC, which “are the minimum infection prevention practices that apply to all patient care, regardless of suspected or confirmed infection status of the patient, in any setting where health care is delivered.” These practices include, among others:

  • Hand hygiene.
  • Use of personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves, masks, eyewear).
  • Respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette.
  • Sterile instruments and devices.
  • Clean and disinfected environmental surfaces.

We have also taken steps to re-educate all Cornerstone and Stepping Stone staff members on the use of personal protection equipment to prevent the spread of any communicable illness, and we’re working with the companies that provide contract labor to ensure that they don’t send any employees who exhibit signs of illness to carry out work on our campuses.

In addition, we are looking at measures to restrict all non-essential travel by company employees, as well as taking a thorough look on a case-by-case basis at the Therapeutic Leave and Therapeutic Absence requests by patients in our Intensive Outpatient/Sober Living programs. Obviously, the last thing we want is to prevent our patients from using their weekend pass privileges to spend time with family, but in the event their travel might be to areas experiencing a high rate of infection, we have to act out of an abundance of precaution to protect the patient population to which they would return.

However: We remain dedicated to our primary purpose, which is to provide unparalleled treatment for alcoholism and addiction. We remain in contact with referral sources from around the country and remind them that traveling to Cornerstone for treatment is, in fact, essential travel. Locally, we are assuring prospective patients to both Cornerstone and Stepping Stone that our increased efforts at prevention and sanitation will mean that the only concern they should have while in our care is recovery from their disease.

So what does that mean for our guests?

First and foremost, we’re asking everyone who comes to Cornerstone for any purpose to be good stewards of our mission and do not visit campus if you have any of the above symptoms. Meetings and conferences may likely be canceled, but other visitors are asked to be judicious in deciding to visit patients or attend recovery meetings at Cornerstone or Stepping Stone. Individuals in recovery are familiar with one of the tenets of the program — that one of the hallmarks of our recovery is that we become responsible, productive members of society. Part of that responsibility involves not exposing others, particularly individuals whose health is compromised by addiction and alcoholism, to any illnesses that might be of particular concern.

We will be asking all visitors to sign in at every facility on campus, acknowledging that they do not show signs or symptoms of Coronavirus or any communicable illness. Even when our family programs are resumed, we will screen family members who plan to attend and actively turn away anyone who reports symptoms similar to those of COVID-19.

This is a policy we anticipate keeping in place for the remainder of this crisis, and we want to thank you all for your patience and your understanding. Obviously, there’s a great deal of media scrutiny about COVID-19, and much of the concern stems from the fact that so little is still known about it. While we don’t wish to contribute to any sort of panic, neither do we wish to dismiss it as hysteria. As a result, we’re asking you to help us in protecting our most vulnerable population: the individuals who come to us for drug and alcohol treatment.

We want to encourage an open and honest dialogue about this developing situation, and we understand that you may have additional concerns. Please feel free to reach out directly to us, should you need to clarify any information or ask questions. We will continue to monitor this situation on a weekly, and in some cases daily, basis, and we will adjust our decisions based on the developing severity or solution to this illness.

Again, we are grateful for your support and your understanding, and we will continue to keep you updated as we know more and further refine our mission to provide much-needed treatment for addiction and alcoholism, which remains a very serious health crisis.

“Our thought is, the Coronavirus is very contagious, but to us, the chances of dying from the disease of addiction are a much worse scenario,” McGrew says. “That is a much more dangerous thing for them to have than the possibility of getting the Coronavirus. If they pass our pre-screening requirements, they need to come here for treatment.”