Guest Column: COVID-19 preparations — life in a skilled nursing facility

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, May 19, 2020

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Guest Column by Katie Davis

Katie Davis


Skilled nursing facilities and assisted living organizations are home to one of the most vulnerable populations: seniors. Our facilities are also the most highly regulated and most scrutinized organizations, which has added an entirely new element of planning for this COVID-19 pandemic.

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In my professional career as a licensed nursing home administrator, this pandemic has proved to be the most challenging of my professional career. Somehow, it is also the most loving experience I have ever witnessed. As of today, I am grateful to not have any cases of COVID-19 at our Albert Lea Good Samaritan Society location. I know though that this could easily change in the blink of the eye.

Regulations: This pandemic started with our teams updating pandemic plans, reviewing staffing contingency plans, strategizing our supply of personal protective equipment, implementing systems and processes for employee and resident face masking, implementing visitor restrictions, updating menu and dining protocols, revising our activity programming, updating resident transportation schedules, communicating action plans to employees and families, updating cleaning schedules, providing additional infection control education to employees and the list continues to go on and on. The Minnesota Department of Health also started conducting infection control special focus surveys. The goal of these surveys is to ensure organizations are following adequate and appropriate infection control protocols. As of today, there have been more than 300 guideline updates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Essentially these are 300 changes being implemented for our organizations, and all those like Good Samaritan Society all across the country.

The village: This pandemic has truly shown that it takes a village to care for our seniors. We have had many wonderful partners throughout our entire planning processes. They have supported our efforts and initiatives to keep our residents and tenants safe, as well as provided partnership in training exercises. The Freeborn County Healthcare Coalition has provided great support to us in obtaining personal protective equipment. Hospice agencies continue to provide support to our residents. The best partnership our center has is with our families. They are the foundation to the village that is serving our seniors. It is with their support and encouragement that we have been successful.

Emotional well-being: This pandemic has not only brought potential physical concerns to our seniors and employees, but also increased anxiety and fear. As I mentioned before, the planning of this pandemic has been the hardest and most challenging thing I have done in my career. There were many nights the first three weeks of this pandemic where tears would fill my eyes as I laid in bed at night. Tears for our families who couldn’t see their loved ones. Tears from simply being overwhelmed. Tears from being overly tired. Tears for our employees, who are the frontline workers. Though as the weeks progressed and our planning strategies continued, these sad tears changed to tears of joy. Joyful tears of being confident in our COVID- 19 preparations. Joyful tears for the amazing work of our frontline staff. Joyful tears reading emails from family members thanking our employees. Joyful tears for knowing that my facility is prepared.

Loving experience: It’s crazy to think that a pandemic can correlate to a rewarding and loving experience. The love that our center has felt from families and the community is incomprehensible. Ongoing supplies of cloth masks donated from various community members, thank you signs in our neighbor yards thanking our employees, food donated to our employees, pizza parties, monetary donations and our employee refrigerator being stocked with donated beverages for employees are just a few examples of the overwhelming support. We have received more than 450 emails for residents and employees. The list of acts of kindness continues to grow. We feel the love. We feel the support.

The new temporary normal: Media outlets have often times portrayed nursing homes inaccurately during this pandemic timeframe. Our environment, like many other senior care organizations, continues to grow and thrive even in hard and unprecedented times. The beginning of each shift starts with employees getting their temperature taken, as well as completing a questionnaire to ensure they don’t have symptoms of COVID-19. All employees are wearing a surgical mask. You will find that our leadership team meetings have moved to a room where we can all sit six feet apart. For our nursing staff, they are busy throughout their shift doing additional assessments on our residents to evaluate for any possible COVID-19 symptoms. Walking down our hallways, you will find maybe a game of hallway bingo occurring or crafts being done in individual resident rooms. You may also hear our chaplain in a resident room, singing and playing his guitar for a resident. You may also see family members enjoying a picnic outside a resident room while they converse with their loved one via the window.

Throughout various shifts, you may see an emergency COVID-19 drill happening with employees as a way to prepare them to care for a COVID-19 patient. You will also see nurse educators educating employees on proper techniques of wearing personal protective equipment or providing basic infection control education. Every morning you will see our leadership team members doing extra cleaning of areas that are highly touched by employees: vending machine buttons, employee time-clock, employee keyboards, elevator buttons, etc. You will see our employees checking their cell phones throughout the day for COVID-19 reminders/updates via text messages. When our employees have their breaks, you will see  them staying distant in our employee lounge. During various times throughout the day, you may see a resident Face Timing on one of our many iPads with their family members. Once a week, you may see a group of our employees in our chapel attending an employee blessing/chapel time with our chaplain. You will see leaders in our meeting rooms throughout the day attending conference calls learning about new COVID-19 regulations, rules and strategies. If you are a family member, your email inbox will be inundated with updates directly from me a few times per week. A mask may be covering our employees smiles, but you can see their smiles through their eyes. Lastly, you may see residents sitting in our courtyard watching our goats and chickens enjoy fresh grass and hay. This is our new temporary normal.

We take one day at a time.

Freeborn County has a large number of senior care organizations, and we are all in this together.

Send a senior a card in the mail. Have your child color or paint a picture for a senior. Thank an employee who you know works in a long-term care facility. Keep our seniors and employees in your prayers. We would all love for you to be part of our village in caring for our Freeborn County seniors.

Katie Davis is a licensed nursing home administrator of Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea.