Assisted care facilities take precautions during COVID-19 crisis

  • Photo from Unsplash. Assisted care facilities take precautions during COVID-19 crisis.
    Photo from Unsplash. Assisted care facilities take precautions during COVID-19 crisis.

Families have been impacted by COVID-19 in many ways, whether it be not being able to visit a loved one in the hospital or the inability to travel and visit far-away relatives.

This time of social distancing is especially difficult for those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, because they are not allowed to have visitors as a precautionary step in minimizing exposure to the virus.

CannonWood Village assisted living facility and Mountain View Health and Rehab are two facilities in Rabun County that have been impacted by the virus and have had to change policies regarding visitation and group activities among residents.

CannonWood Village

“We’re not allowing visitors at this time,” said Tammy Yearwood, administrator for CannonWood Village in Tiger.

She said that the facility is under full quarantine at this time and that they are taking every precaution to limit residents’ exposure to COVID-19.

The age range of their residents averages 70-97, a high-risk group with increased chances of developing COVID-19.

This also means that they are not accepting new residents at this time.

Marissa Blackstock, admissions director, said that they are not having new residents move in until at least May 13. This is when Gov. Kemp’s executive order is set to expire.

Yearwood said that they have not yet had any residents show symptoms of COVID-19 and that the facility is changing certain activity routines and ramping-up cleaning as extra safety precautions.

Blackstock said that the Georgia National Guard has been to the facility twice to help clean and that CannonWood’s cleaning service is deep cleaning to ensure areas inside and outside resident rooms are thoroughly clean.

Every assisted living facility is also required to send a report to the state each morning on the status of residents in their facility, Yearwood explained.

Managing the health of residents and employees

In order to protect residents from situations that could expose them to COVID-19, Yearwood said that all the doctors have tele-health visits with patients.

She said that a staff member sits in the room with the patient during the visit.

Yearwood also said that they have not yet had to have any patients admitted to the hospital. Although she said that if a resident were taken to the hospital, the person would be required to be tested for the virus before returning to the facility.

This would add an extra 2-3 days to their hospital stay, Yearwood noted.

In addition, employees are required to have their temperature taken each day upon arriving to work, Blackstock said.

They are also required to wear protective equipment, such as a mask and gloves, while working.

Residents are encouraged to wear masks outside of their rooms to protect from the virus, but also because of the high pollen count.

Halt on group activities

Blackstock said that residents are allowed to come out of their rooms into the club room, but that they have to remain six feet apart.

“We have to find little things they can do in their room,” Blackstock said.  She said that it’s sad because they cannot have group activities so residents have to find projects to complete on their own.

She said that they are missing out on the group activities that they love, like playing bingo and singing.

Blackstock also said that meals are delivered to patients in their rooms.

“It’s hard on everyone,” Blackstock said about dealing with the impact of COVID-19.

Mountain View Health and Rehab

Mountain View Health and Rehab, a nursing home in Clayton, is implementing similar procedures with regard to employee and patient safety.

“We still have no visitors here,” said Shari Jordan, administrator. She said this will continue even with Gov. Brian Kemp’s orders opening some businesses.

She said that the only exception to this is if a patient is actively dying, is on hospice, or for a similar situation.

All patients taken to the hospital are tested for the virus before returning to the facility, regardless of the reason for their hospital visit, Jordan explained.

She said that this is an extra precaution to ensure the safety of employees and other residents.

“We’ve built a temporary wall or “protected unit” to block them off from everyone else,” Jordan said about patients who return from the hospital.

Residents have to stay in this wing of the nursing home for 14 days before returning to their regular room.

Jordan said that staff members are assigned to that section of the building for an entire day to avoid exposing the virus to other parts of the nursing home.

“We just want to keep everyone safe,” Jordan said.

Precautions for staff members

Jordan explained that all employees are screened at the front door before entering the facility.

They have their temperature checked, clean their hands with hand sanitizer, and are assigned a mask and gloves to wear.

They are also asked questions per Centers for Disease Control Guidelines (CDC) such as “have you been coughing?” and “have you been around anyone who has tested positive for the virus?”

Employees have to complete these steps each time they leave and come back to the facility, even if they just left for lunch, Jordan explained.

She said that employees are monitored throughout the day to make sure they are complying with wearing their protective gear and to ensure they are wearing their masks properly.  

“We do not have COVID-19 in this building,” Jordan said about reported cases in the nursing home.

She said that they are currently accepting more patients but that the newcomers stay in the “protected unit” and are evaluated before being admitted.

“[We] want to keep everyone as healthy and safe as possible,” Jordan said. She said that she and her staff are working long hours to take care of patients and are keeping track of their weight, fluid intake and overall health.

Bringing positivity to patients

Jordan said that most patients are confined to their rooms, but the ones who can come out into the hallway are asked to stay distant from each other.

“We do hall bingo,” she said about how they try and have group-type activities during this time of social distancing.

Since patients cannot have visitors, Jordan explained that managers are assigned to rooms and they sit with patients and talk and read to them in order to spend time with them and help them through this difficult time.

“We’re their entertainment,” Jordan said.

Employees even go around each week to residents and paint their nails.

She said that a decorated cart goes around and delivers coffee, medicine, snacks and other items to patients in their rooms.

The school is sending cards to residents in the nursing home to lift their spirits, Jordan said.

Although families cannot visit their loved ones in person, they send mail, talk to each other through room windows so they can visibly see each other and video chat together.

“We do Zoom with family and residents,” Jordan said. “They love that.”

Jordan said that she is not sure how long these procedures will continue, but that they must have approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) before any changes can be made.

“CMS is who governs us,” she said, emphasizing that they have to give the “okay” before changes can be made, regardless of any executive order from Gov. Kemp.

Traces of Tiger assisted living facility had not returned calls seeking comment as of  press time Wednesday.