How communities are coping with COVID
COVID-19, as we all now know, puts older adults at highest risk for severe illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control, eight out of ten deaths from COVID have occurred in people over 65.
So, the pandemic has required life care communities and long-term care facilities to take steps to mitigate risk and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.
In early March, many communities ordered protective equipment and restricted outside visitors.
“We locked down very early,” said Ken Silverstein, Vice President of AlfredHouse Elder Care, which operates assisted living group homes throughout the area. They kept their residences closed off from visitors to prevent transmission of COVID within their properties.
Similarly, Falcon’s Landing, in Sterling, Va., decided to act quickly.
“When COVID hit the West Coast and tragically caused dozens of deaths in an assisted living community outside of Seattle,” said Barbara Brannon, CEO of Falcons Landing, “we recognized the risk was real and dangerous and more imminent that we had realized.” The staff revised and implemented a flu plan they had developed during the H1N1 swine flu threat.
Later in March, Falcons Landing increased the use of protective gear among residents and staff, requiring masks during indoor interactions and promoting social distancing.
“At that point, many residents believed we were overreacting and they chafed at the increasing restrictions,” Brannon said. “Still the majority thanked us for keeping them safe and complied with our guidance.”
Cleaning and screening
Local facilities also instituted more rigorous cleaning and sanitation procedures.
For example, Charles E. Smith Life Communities, which has buildings for independent living, assisted living and memory care on its campus, developed a six-point protocol in response to COVID.
One of the points involves frequent sanitation and disinfecting of public areas and high-touch surfaces using CDC-approved disinfectants.
Alongside the protective gear and sanitation measures, many communities implemented screening procedures to monitor staff and residents.
In mid-April, Falcons Landing decided to test all staff and residents to determine whether there were residents with COVID who were asymptomatic. “The Virginia Department of Health had just instituted a Point-Prevalence Survey (PPS),” Brannon said. “Within four hours, a National Guard unit tested over 250 individuals.”
Falcons Landing continued routine testing, but has moved to less frequent testing after no longer having active cases.
Cold, warm and hot zones
“We implemented daily monitoring of residents, including temperature and pulse oximeter readings,” said Rene Gomez, administrator of Brooke Grove Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
When several residents, some of whom were asymptomatic, tested positive, Gomez designated what he called cold, warm and hot zones.
Cold zones housed patients who had tested negative for COVID, and hot zones, including a wing in the rehabilitation unit, a wing in the long-term care area, and a wing in the long-term care dementia unit, housed residents who had tested positive.
In the hot zones, “transmission-based precautions for COVID-19 were implemented, including standard, contact and droplet precautions,” said Gomez. Staff working in the hot zone could exit the facility without entering other units.
The warm zone provided a transitional space for staff to prepare to enter the hot zone if necessary, and for disinfecting any equipment that had been taken into the hot zone.
“The zone system resulted in successfully preventing in-house acquired COVID-19 cases,” Gomez said.
By the time Governor Hogan announced the implementation of National Guard Strike teams to conduct on-site visits in every Maryland nursing home, Brooke Grove’s was already ahead of the game in implementing strategies to prevent the spread of the virus, and staff members focused their attention on reviewing current best practices for infection control standards.
Opening up gradually
As the whole country has eased restrictions, so have many facilities, as long as they are not experiencing outbreaks.
Many have begun to allow family visits, within limits. AlfredHouse, for instance, currently allows two visits per day to each of their residences.
“One visitor can come in the morning, and one can come in the afternoon” to each house, said Silverstein. Visits take place outside — with masks — and visitors stay at least six feet apart.
Transitioning new residents
Long-term care facilities and communities are also starting to open up to new residents again, but doing so requires necessary precautions.
Charles E. Smith Living Communities is developing special apartments where new residents of the independent living community Ring House and assisted living community Landow House can quarantine while transitioning into the community.
For 14 days, new residents remain in the quarantine apartments and are given daily wellness checks. Call to ask about special offers.
“We want our new residents to have the opportunity for visitation and to be active,” said Deanna Ziemba, Vice President, Business Development and Marketing.
The new residents have access to closed-circuit televisions they can use to participate in the community’s exercise classes, talk to family members through a video call, and communicate by video with front desk staff.
The pandemic still impacts people across the country, but staff at life care communities and long-term care facilities continue to adapt as needed to keep residents safe.
For more information about these communities, contact: AlfredHouse at (301) 703-2308, Charles E. Smith Life Communities at (301) 276-7102, and Falcon’s Landing at (703) 293-5054.