The statistics are eye-opening and overwhelming – senior citizens make up the vast majority of COVID-19 related deaths. As a result, nursing homes have become the epicenter of the pandemic. While the numbers make the news and the political points, the everyday heroes who are providing care in nursing homes across the country are often overlooked.
Each day, these people work tirelessly to care for their patients during a health crisis that is simply unprecedented. To offer an inside look at life inside a nursing home during COVID-19, we spoke to a Nursing Home Administrator in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“We’re prepared for disasters. We’re prepared for flu outbreaks. Our staff and patients have been through them before and we know what to do and what to expect. COVID caught us by surprise. We were prepared for the regular stuff but not for something like this.”
As the pandemic emerged and the true dangers became known, the facility lost staff due to fear for their own personal safety as well as the safety of their families.
“The staff that stayed had to do extra work – we even had RNs folding laundry. The focus was always on our residents. Our facility is a skilled nursing facility – we provide Therapy Services such as OT, PT, ST, Respiratory Services and long-term care. Our capacity is 138 patients and we were at 90% capacity while being short-staffed. We actually stopped taking patients because of COVID-19.”
“When the virus hit, we quickly divided the facility into three areas. The first was for well residents. The second was for COVID-19 infected residents. The third was a quarantine area for residents.”
Families were not allowed to visit their loved ones which meant that staff had to become like extended family. “Families couldn’t visit. No one could. Residents were so used to seeing their families…it was especially hard for those who have trouble communicating. Family contact is vital so we did window visits, we used facetime, virtual visits became the new normal. It’s hard, very hard trying to keep that personal connection during something like this.”
Residents had to stay in their rooms to prevent transmission of the virus. “Community is important and the virus took that away. We had to cut off access to the gym and the dining rooms. A lot of group activities had to end. There was no socializing. Our staff got creative and made sure patients and residents had things to do to help them stay engaged. Puzzles, games and music became the centerpiece of daily activities.”
The hardest part was losing people to COVID-19. With no family contact possible, it was the staff who was there to comfort dying patients. “We would talk, listen, play music and do whatever we could to show how much we cared. We did lose patients and they couldn’t say goodbye to their loved ones which was hard on everyone. To do this job you have to love people so if we lost someone to COVID-19 it affected our entire staff.”
During our interview, the Nursing Home Administrator stressed the need for everyone to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines regarding social distancing and mask wearing. “Don’t get lax. We want everyone to follow the safety precautions because we see the impact. No one can be there with you when you’re sick except for the people who provide care. The Doctors, Nurses, CNAs, Housekeepers, Laundry Workers, Maintenance Men, Activities Staff, Social Workers, Central Supply Clerks, Dietary Staff and Administrative Staff…they’re the real heroes. I’ve seen them doing amazing things each and every day.”