Senior living facilities still facing challenges in isolation

While businesses across the state are easing in to reopening, staff at local nursing and assisted living facilities are still taking extensive precautions to help both employees and their residents.

As businesses continue to reopen and restrictions on social gatherings and interaction gradually ease, healthcare workers with local nursing homes and assisted living centers said extensive challenges remain in regards to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, both for residents as well as those administering care.

Chief among them is a strict adherence to safety measures designed to prevent infection, actions that are of the utmost importance, Santa Fe Health and Rehabilitation Director of Nursing Donna Hull said.

“We still are not allowing any visitors, any family,” Hull said. “The only thing we allow are essential employees which are our hospice people, our lab techs and doctors. We don’t accept anything brought in from the community, food, anything. 

“Our staff and residents all wear masks. If residents come out of their rooms, they have to be wearing a mask. If we go into a room to do any kind of care, we put a mask on them and we have ours on too.”

Additional measures such as surveillance and constant screening for symptoms including fever also remain top priorities, Weatherford Healthcare Center Administrator Pat Johnson said.

“One of the first things we do has to do with surveillance,” Johnson said. “We monitor residents for symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, we do that for every resident at least once a shift. Then we use PPE and other mechanisms like soap, water, hand sanitizer, use of a face mask. We wear gowns and or face shields. It just depends on the diagnosis or what might be needed by the resident. 

“The entire staff all wear surgical masks everyday, all day long for the care of the residents. We announce hourly a Code Clean for all staff to stop what they’re doing and simply wash their hands.

“Any resident that leaves our facility, let’s say they go to the hospital or emergency room for a different issue, when they return, we put them in a private room for observation for 14 days while we’re monitoring for all those signs and symptoms.

“We communicate everyday to our local health authority, we also communicate to the Department of Health and Human Services. They’re tracking information from the facility daily.”

Measures regarding the intake of items such as mail and food from loved ones varies from one facility to the next.

Hilltop Park Rehabilitation And Care Center Administrator Jim McDonald said the above mentioned items are allowed to be dropped off for residents in a storage box at its front door, before promptly being sanitized, which unfortunately at times can cause delays getting them to residents.

While vital, such extensive measures admittedly take a toll on everyone involved, Autumn Hill Manor Nurse Manager Gina McBee said.

“[For residents], it’s the interaction,” McBee said.

“They’ve been able to see their family on FaceTime, they’ve done drive by visits, but some of them have mentioned that they’ll be glad when they can sit down and have a meal with other residents, because right now we’ve got four tables in our dining room, but there’s one resident at each table, so they can’t sit down and eat with someone.”

Hull echoed McBee’s comments regarding the social isolation currently facing residents in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

“It’s sad, because they basically have been confined to their rooms,” Hull said.

“We do let residents out, but we can only let 10 of them in an area at a time, and they have to have six feet of distance between them. All meals are served in their rooms.”

The inability of families to visit their loved ones in person in particular weighs heavy, Johnson said.

“I think the issue as far as residents is the social isolation from their families,” Johnson said.

Those working around the clock to take care of residents face similar challenges themselves, Hull said.

“As far as the staff, it’s a struggle,” Hull said. “If you’ve ever had to wear a mask having to give showers and things like that, they’re not very comfortable. And once our staff get into the building, they are not allowed to leave until they are leaving for the day. They’re not allowed to go out for lunch or have DoorDash, we basically feed them out of our kitchen.”

Continuing to adhere to strict social distancing measures while away from work requires constant attention from healthcare workers, McBee said.

“Keeping the virus out, being very mindful when you’re out away from here [is vital], because obviously we can’t control what everybody does,” McBee said. “Practicing the social distancing, washing hands, not touching your face, trying to keep yourself safe so that when they come to work, they’re safe with residents.”

Johnson said Weatherford Healthcare Center’s workers are subject to the same thorough screening measures as residents when coming into work.

“When our staff enter the building, we take their temperature and when they come on duty, they have to sanitize and there are questions they have to answer everyday,” Johnson said. “‘Have you had a temperature at home? Have you been ill? Have you had known exposure?’ So if an employee is ill, they would automatically be sent home and not allowed to return to work until they had clearance from their physician and have been fever free for 72 hours.”

Gov. Greg Abbott Monday announced the next phase of the state’s plan to reopen — child care open immediately, bars can open Friday and sports will be allowed to return at the end of the month.

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