Several local nursing home administrators provided updates on care offered to residents in response to scrutiny nursing homes and assisted living facilities are facing across the country in light of outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus among residents.
The issue hit closer to home over a week ago when an employee of The Pines nursing facility in Machias tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. While no residents of the home had shown signs of contracting the illness, or tested positive, the incident further pinpointed the vulnerability of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in all communities.
The Times Herald reached out to several facilities in the Olean and Allegany communities and received the following responses.
At The Pines in Olean, Kelly Reed, deputy Cattaraugus County administrator/acting director of nursing homes, noted the policy at the Olean campus is similar to that enacted at The Pines in Machias.
She said each of the facilities has had “an ongoing process for screening both the employees and residents of the facilities in place since the COVID-19 emergency began. The safety measures we have in place have proven successful in identifying potential issues.”
For example, if an employee tests positive the individual is sent home immediately. The individual is also in contact with the Health Department and Emergency Operations Center nurse and physician for monitoring and follow-up. Residents who display symptoms are subject to isolation protocols and monitored while the tests are pending.
“The Pines facilities are in compliance with all of these regulations,” she said. “Within the facilities, we have areas dedicated for residents in the event that they become symptomatic and require testing, in order to minimize exposure and spread throughout the buildings.”
Asked if the facilities have been able to provide appropriate staffing during the pandemic, she replied, “At this time, yes, but we cannot foresee what the future may hold.”
As for how the residents and staff are doing during this challenging time, and whether residents are maintaining contact with loved ones, Reed said all are in good spirits, given the circumstances.
“The outpouring of support and kindness of families of the Pines, and throughout the community have been very uplifting to all and is appreciated,” Reed said. “We continue to utilize Skype for resident and family communications with the assistance of the activities staff in both buildings, and we have had an overwhelming response.”
She noted the residents are fascinated with the technology and look forward to their visits. Telephone communications are always available.
Reed also noted the residents have been able to maintain activities and exercise, despite the challenges of social distancing.
“We take seriously our mission to maintain the health and emotional welfare of our residents,” Reed continued. “This does not change. Our residents are our number one priority. We understand this is difficult on our families. We will continue to keep them informed” in all matters, including if there are incidents of COVID-19 with residents or staff.
“We are also actively updating our website www.pinescare.com, and each facility is very active on Facebook,” she said.
At Absolut Care of Allegany, Jason Newman, spokesperson for Vestracare, said the facility has had extremely tight measures in place since the beginning of the crisis and have had a multitude of safeguards in place to ensure staff and resident safety.
Newman said that should there be COVID-19 infection, the nursing facility has “very detailed protocols, some include setting the buildings into zones … these plans are too vast to go into in detail at this point.”
Newman noted the facility is maintaining adequate staffing levels. In addition, he said residents are able to maintain contact with relatives and friends through virtual visits that are available to them and their loved ones, as well as through an ecard system available through the facility’s website.
Newman said the nursing facility also has maintained its normal functions and activities.
“All systems are a go at the facilities, the only difference is that we do not allow any non-essential visitors,” he said. “The safety and well-being of our residents and staff has always been, and will continue to be, of paramount importance.”
At Field of Dreams, an assisted living and memory care facility in Allegany, Terri Ingersoll chief operating officer with the Tanglewood Group of Jamestown, said safety protocols are updated almost daily.
“We do have a plan in place in the event we experience the virus in our facilities,” Ingersoll said. “Each facility situation is unique based on the layout and current census ... but for Field of Dreams specifically, we have designated areas for isolation and protocols for the same.”
She explained that residents who are ill will remain in their rooms, where they would receive all meals and medications. In addition, staff will be designated to the isolation area while working and will not be permitted to be in any other area of the facility as a measure to avoid cross-contamination.
“We have designated a specific entrance/exit for those employees during that time,” Ingersoll added. “No soiled laundry or dishes will leave the isolation area. All trash will be taken directly from the isolation area, through the designated entrance/exit to the dumpster.”
In addition, the facility has been ramping up inventory of personal protection equipment (PPE) should a resident be infected.
“We have been developing training competencies for employees on the proper use of PPE as well as removal and disposal of PPE after use,” she said.
Ingersoll said the residents are doing well and staff have been educating them and strongly encouraging social distancing.
“Residents are eating at a safe distance, one from another, in the dining room and while activities are continuing and critically important for everyone’s sanity, they, too, meet the social distance rules,” she said. “The residents have been freely using Skype to communicate with families since March 13, when we were directed to suspend all visitation.
Ingersoll said the facility doesn’t provide testing, at present, for COVID-19 and would inform families if a resident or employee became ill with the virus.
“We of course hope and pray that all precautions taken will ultimately get us through this time without a case of COVID-19 since one case is one too many,” Ingersoll added.