Lessons learned about COVID-19 and nursing homes

AnnMarie LeBoeuf

The past six months have been difficult for everyone, including the health care workers, residents of nursing homes, and their families. The challenges we face at Holy Trinity Nursing & Rehabilitation Center are affecting skilled nursing and assisted living communities across the world. Residents often must be quarantined, facing their solitude with only TV, books, phone calls, Zoom visits, and the presence of nursing staff. Life as we knew it at Holy Trinity has changed.

Our hearts go out to the nursing home communities that have endured high rates of COVID-19 and resulted in the tragic deaths of residents. We mourn the loss of life, we miss the unrestricted family visits, the usual buzz of activities, communal meals, and the friendly conversation that filled our rooms. We are passionate about caring for the elderly, and in these uncertain times, it has been heartbreaking, challenging, and stressful. And in spite of that, each day our staff at Holy Trinity put on their personal protective equipment (PPE) and a brave face to care for our residents, knowing that they are putting themselves at risk.

Nursing homes in Massachusetts have been hit especially hard, but the good news is that many nursing home residents here and across the country have remained safe due to the strict attention to infection control, diligence of the administrators in their facilities, and most importantly the dedication and hard work of their staff.

As soon as the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) became known, we immediately stopped in-person visits and began testing our residents. Even before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a state of emergency and issued their guidelines, we took important steps to reduce the spread of the virus. We undertook intensive staff education about cleaning and sanitizing techniques, increased housekeeping requirements, and implemented gowning and PPE precautions to keep our residents and staff safe.

After our first few residents tested positive, we requested that the National Guard test everyone in the facility. This allowed us to put in place a treatment plan for those who were sick, and also to protect residents and staff who were well.

Holy Trinity has been a model of patient care, and early on we recognized the importance of communication with families and loved ones. We pride ourselves on being transparent with families. We’ve provided daily updates using social media, personal phone calls, and Voicefriend messages, on the status of COVID-19 at our center. While visitors were not able to come into the center, we encouraged face-to-face window visits, and e-cards, as well as video visits.

Our ability to keep the virus levels at zero or very low depends on our keeping vigilant. Family members still need to meet and greet their loved ones while outdoors and remain responsibly spaced. Personal protective equipment is required for safety. As the weather changes, we have created safe spaces for indoor visits.

Our future is not certain, as the nation moves from the first wave into a possible second wave. Officials have predicted a possible combination of flu season and COVID-19, which Holy Trinity is preparing for.

Holy Trinity now has access to enough testing, a large inventory of PPE, and training in place to meet the anticipated second wave. We are confident of our ability to continue to meet federal and state health guidelines. We’ve just passed our third Infection control survey with a perfect score, and no deficiencies. In fact, one state surveyor visiting the facility commented on how engaged our staff was, and how much effort they took to make residents thrive while maintaining a high level of compassion and care! Our staff is the core of our organization, and we are proud of their heart and their work.

Nursing homes have been badly stressed by this pandemic with so many high-risk residents living in close quarters. Fortunately, many government organizations are stepping up to help remedy the difficult task of caring for the elderly. While some stories in the media have stressed failures of long term care, it is more effective to ask what can be done, to improve the system we are using.

The business of long term care includes small, independent, non-profit homes like us, all the way up to large corporations that administer elder care with many facilities. Fortunately, with the impact of COVID-19, and the input of state and federal government agencies, we are all working together in a new way to ensure our elder population remain safe and happy in their homes.

AnnMarie LeBoeuf is the Director of Nursing for Holy Trinity Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Worcester. 

AnnMarie LeBoeuf


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