Earlier this month, LifeCare Greenbush Manor residents communicated with their families, but not in person. Instead they wrote messages to them in marker on whiteboards. For example, Gerald Burkel wrote the following message: “To all my family— Miss you all so much! Waiting for the day we can all be together again! Love, Dad/Grandpa”.
LifeCare Medical Center posted photos of Greenbush Manor residents, such as Gerald, holding up their whiteboard messages on its Facebook page on April 3. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, communication through non in-person means has become the new normal for nursing home and assisted living facilities. Families and friends greeting their loved ones in assisted living and nursing homes through windows have become a common scene.
As of April 20, the LifeCare Greenbush Manor and Roseau Manor facilities have had no cases of COVID-19 and, according to the Star Tribune, Roseau County as a whole has just one confirmed case. The Minnesota Department of Health records care facilities that have been exposed to COVID-19 and this info, along with other Minnesota COVID-19 numbers, are available at the following link: www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/situation.html#ccf1 .
Loralee Waage, Director of Nursing at the LifeCare Greenbush Manor, and Emily Straw, Director of Long-Term Care and the Licensed Nursing Home Administrator for the LifeCare Greenbush Manor and Roseau Manor, spoke via phone about the guidelines the Greenbush Manor has put into effect to keep its residents safe.
They also discussed the biggest adjustments for staff and residents, the morale at the facility, available testing, and how they view their role since the pandemic began.
In early March, LifeCare began planning for this pandemic and initiated visitor restrictions on March 11. LifeCare receives new guidance every couple of days, as the Center for Disease Control and the Minnesota Department of Health continue to provide updated recommendations.
“We’re just watching those websites and then as they put forward recommendations, we adopt them,” Straw said.
By March 16, LifeCare began screening all employees every time they come to work. This screening includes: taking their temperature, asking them if they have symptoms, such as a sore throat or a cough, have traveled anywhere, or have been in contact with anyone they know who was exposed to the virus. While in the facility, staff also have to wear masks. They have been using homemade, washable masks, unless they need a surgical mask.
“The intent of the masks that the staff are wearing is not to keep the staff from breathing in particles that are infectious,” Straw said. “It’s really to protect the residents from the staff.”
Straw did report how the Greenbush facility does have a limited number of COVID-19 tests available, but that LifeCare Medical Center in Roseau has more such tests available.
“As much as our efforts are to keep the virus out of the facility… That’s where a lot of our efforts have gone,” Straw said. “But we still have to plan for what was happens if we do experience a case in one of our facilities. So obviously, we have been working on those plans for several weeks… so at least we’re ready.”
Outside staff, the Greenbush Manor also has applied guidelines, or restrictions, related to vendors and volunteers. For example, the mail carrier has to leave mail at the door and LifeCare staff will go and get the packages.
In terms of the public, LifeCare Greenbush Manor is on “100 percent lockdown.”
“We are making some exceptions for resident families that are at the end of life phase,” Straw said. “So we have had some visitors who have come in and then we adopt the screening processes.”
The screening processes for these visitors include: asking them about if they have any symptoms or if they have traveled. LifeCare requires that these visitors wear masks, educates them about sanitizing their hands as much as possible, and asks them to limit their mobility around the facility.
“We try to find traffic patterns or limit their footprints within the facility so that they’re only going where’s absolutely necessary,” Straw said.
After mentioning how neither the LifeCare Greenbush Manor and Roseau Manor have had any confirmed COVID-19 cases, Straw said, “We’re just praying that we can do our best. Ultimately, the prayer that we’re saying every night is that we just keep it out and do everything in our power to just keep it out of the facilities, and I mean, ultimately, to protect the residents.”
Meanwhile, residents are communicating with their loved ones by less traditional means and, according to its Facebook page, staying busy with puzzles, games, food, movies, and more while social distancing. Roger Peterson’s message to his family provides an example of this.
“Dear Brad, Nick, Jake, Tori, Rana and Jennifer— Don’t get sick— I’ve been busy. Love, Dad.”
To see the complete story, read the April 22 issue of The Tribune in print or online.