Answering the call of COVID-19 duty: Senior care workers rise up to help residents adapt

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With centers closing, seniors are faced with social isolation and meal take-out and delivery options become important. York Daily Record

They received the unexpected gift of arranging flowers with their hands.

The ever-growing coronavirus pandemic cancelled the yearly spring flower offering that State Farm Insurance agent Barbara Buffington provides for her clients.

So she donated 35 bunches to the Autumn House personal care facility on East Market Street in York. With visitors and communal meals and activities being cut, the flowers were a surprising pick-me up.

Residents crafted bouquets to place in their rooms and around the facility.

The gesture, Buffington said she hoped, will help signal that “we will get through this …

“It tells us that no matter how bad things get, spring will always be there.”

Certainly, life has become more restrictive for seniors in Pennsylvania’s more than 2,000 nursing home and personal care and assisted living facilities. It’s become more taxing, as well, for the employees who must do more to meet new health protocols and the needs of the residents, who are among the most at-risk people for serious complications from the new coronavirus. 

More: ‘I haven’t been out in weeks’: Coronavirus makes mission to help seniors even more critical

How nursing homes, care facilities keep residents safe

Visitors are no longer allowed in care facilities, for fear of spreading COVID-19. Employees, like the 700 at the sprawling Cross Keys Village-Brethren Home Community in New Oxford, must go to through a three-step screening process each time they enter the facility, which includes a temperature check.

Those who exhibit potential virus symptoms or have been exposed to those who do will be sent home for a two-week quarantine period.

Administrators at these facilities from Gettysburg to York to Lebanon all say the beginning of these tightening health rules has been hectic though uniquely satisfying in many ways. 

They say residents and their families are gradually adjusting, even surprisingly so, to the restrictions and demands. 

A new focus has become care and activities in one-on-one or groups of just a few people. With the sudden closures of dining rooms, many more meals must be individually delivered to residents.

Keeping residents connected 

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Some facilities already have set up Facebook portals and FaceTime and Skype access for any residents who want to communicate with outside family and friends.

ManorCare, which has more than 200 properties nationwide, including four in York County, has ordered iPads to provide residents with games and activities and means of communicating to loved ones, said Julie Beckert, the company’s assistant vice president of marketing.

They’ve simply adapted long-loved games like bingo at facilities like Transitions Healthcare in Gettysburg. Residents play their cards while sitting near their doorways, the “calls” made by a staff member in the hallway.

Family and friends also have taken to visiting residents through their ground-floor windows.

Cross Keys Village has been running daily in-house TV programming to educate residents on the myriad of changes and tips during the virus spread, said Mindy Langer, the facility’s communications officer.

Workers from all departments, such as accounting, have pitched in to help deliver meals at Cross Keys, Langer said. And that is a monumental task with a thousand residents spread through its 334 acre campus — making it Pennsylvania’s largest single-site, not-for-profit senior living organization.

Employees are “bringing their best version to work. They’re really focused in on those residents. Don’t you think it would easier to just stay at home with this pandemic and be with family members?” said Lisa Sikes, chief operating officer of the Michigan-based company that runs the Autumn House properties in York and across the state.

“I’m making sure that even though I’m in charge of these buildings that I’m not sitting behind a desk now,” Sikes said. “I’m out wearing my scrubs and helping with whatever I can, taking temperatures, answering phones, picking up cleaning supplies or wiping down areas. That’s all of our employees. Everybody has rallied together …”

Facilities, such as those run by ManorCare, still are allowing visitors for residents who are in “end-of-life situations.” Even those situations will still require “meeting our monitoring and screening process of every visitor, using personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand hygiene by the visitor,” Beckert said.

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