Local retirement communities faced hardship at the unexpected onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as they worked to determine the best ways to protect their residents and staff.
Now, those same facilities are in better places and are beginning to experience some normalcy reminiscent of what they had prior to the pandemic.
Donna Tennant is the admission and marketing director at Sundale Nursing Home on JD Anderson Drive. She said Sundale had to contend with an outbreak of COVID-19 in its facility in March 2020. The outbreak affected about 30 residents as well as some staff members.
“We weathered it well with the assistance of Dr. [Carl] Shrader and an amazing team here at Sundale, working with the residents to keep them well and cared for,” Tennant said.
Since then, the facility has been extremely cautious. Some staff at Sundale have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past year, but the facility has not had any residents contract COVID-19 since that initial outbreak.
The facility is proud of that fact, as staff and administrators at Sundale worked hard to reach that point.
“Sometimes it is difficult for families to understand why we’re so protective, but we did lose five residents that they determined [passed] because of COVID. We’ve been determined that we won’t lose any more,” Tennant said.
Families can now visit loved ones at Sundale as long as they are scheduled. If they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, they must still wear masks in the facility. Unvaccinated individuals or individuals with quarantined loved ones are still required to wear full PPE gowning.
The staff at Sundale continues to be swabbed and tested for COVID-19 each week. Up until last week, all staff underwent testing twice a week. The recent change mandated staff who have been fully vaccinated only need to be swabbed once a week, while unvaccinated staff need to continue to undergo testing twice a week.
Residents are swabbed and tested on an as-needed basis.
“We continue to do that to make sure that we do not get COVID here in this facility again,” Tennant said.
She said an estimated 90% of residents and 60% of staff at Sundale are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Since the vaccinations, administrators at Sundale have started to feel more comfortable allowing residents to gather together, participate in activities, enjoy communal dining and venture outside when the weather permits.
“We’re starting to see a whole different world, and we love it,” Tennant said.
Mark Terry has been the executive director of Harmony at Morgantown on Point Marion Road for three weeks, but he has knowledge of the history of the facility and how it handled the pandemic.
He said Harmony is not unique in that COVID-19 took the entire world by surprise. Assisted living facilities typically keep small supplies of PPE and disinfectants on hand for general use and minor health conditions, but not the extensive supply the pandemic demanded.
Residents who were accustomed to thriving in a social environment had to face changes in everyday lifestyles as the pandemic hit the state. Visitation was restricted; only essential staff members, namely doctors and nurses, were permitted in the facility.
“That was a necessary step. Because of those steps, we were able to keep COVID out of the community. We’re very happy to report that none of our residents through this entire pandemic ever contracted the COVID-19 virus,” Terry said.
Terry said the facility slowly “ramped up” its method of protection against the pandemic. The company had to jump through hoops to ensure that staff and residents had access to appropriate PPE. The materials eventually came, but they weren’t readily available in March 2020.
He said throughout the pandemic, the facility followed CDC guidelines. The facility screened staff members and was able to catch cases of COVID-19 before the virus could be spread to others within the facility.
“Today, we find ourselves in a [situation] much different than it was a year ago,” Terry said. Just two weeks ago the facility reopened its dining facilities so residents could enjoy dinner with each other again.
The facility has also regained a sense of normalcy regarding its activities and programming as it allows entertainers to come into the community and residents to gather in groups and socialize.
“We’re slowly but surely returning back to a pre-COVID time, but we’re still very cautious,” he said. Anyone coming into the facility must still have their temperature taken and masks are still required for staff and visitors. Residents are encouraged to wear masks in common areas.
All residents at Harmony are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The facility is asking new residents to also receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Also, 95% of the staff has been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Assisted Living at Evergreen on Collins Ferry Road didn’t experience a COVID-19 outbreak until January.
Administrator Lori Rankin said the facility completely shut down in late March 2020 and reopened in June with visitor restrictions. Each resident was permitted up to two visitors for one hour, made by appointment. No more than four visitors were permitted in the building at a time.
Visitors were required to wear masks, complete a COVID-19 questionnaire, have their temperatures checked and meet their loved one in designated locations if their loved one shared a room with another resident. Social distancing was also required. Hand sanitizer stations were — and still are — available throughout the facility.
Masks are still required in the facility regardless of whether an individual is fully vaccinated. This applies to both visitors and staff.
Evergreen had an outbreak from Jan. 10 to Feb. 14.
“It started in one corridor, went right to the next, and it came downstairs to a corridor and came right across,” Rankin said.
She said all the residents’ temperatures were in normal ranges. They experienced mild congestion. According to Rankin, this outbreak occurred after many residents had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Last week, one Evergreen resident tested positive for COVID-19 at a nearby hospital. The resident remained at the hospital for a brief period before being released back to the facility. The resident is through their 10 days now, but Evergreen will remain shut down until it conducts its second PCR testing.
“If all of those tests come back negative, then we are able to reopen to visitors and residents can go on outings,” Rankin said.
She said out of 31 residents, 30 are vaccinated. Out of 27 staff members, six are vaccinated.