Central Ohio’s retirement communities and assisted-living facilities, which were hit hard by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, say they have taken extraordinary measures in the past few months to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Long-term-care facilities have suffered from a significant percentage of cases throughout the state since the pandemic began earlier this year.
As of June 24, 70% of coronavirus deaths and 22% of cases in Ohio were linked to long-term-care facilities, such as retirement communities and assisted-living facilities, with 9,928 cases and 1,580 deaths linked to these facilities since April 15, according to data posted by the Ohio Department of Health.
Wesley Glen Retirement Community on North High Street in Clintonville restricted visitation March 15 and then reopened to visitors June 8 for all levels except the nursing home. Leaders said staff have taken far-reaching measures to isolate the virus as much as possible within the Wesley Glen campus. This includes sanitizing all facilities twice daily, implementing widespread testing of employees and residents April 24 and preventing residents from leaving the campus unless it’s medically necessary.
Residents who leave of their own accord are instructed to isolate for 14 days outside the campus and undergo a screening before being cleared to return to their unit.
“It has been a trying time, to say the least,” Wesley Communities CEO Peg Carmany said.
“Everyone is, of course, frightened about COVID-19, but amazingly, everyone has stepped up to the plate and done their part,” she said. “We have a ‘Heroes Work Here’ sign on our front lawn. It’s absolutely true.
“Employees have conquered their fears, and residents have done their part to be positive and uplifting, staying in touch with each other and communicating with staff, which has been so important since the governor’s visitor ban.”
Carmany said when Wesley Glen began testing in April, some of those tests came back positive.
“We knew with testing we would have reportable cases, and we did,” she said. “But this allowed us to set up isolation units for the residents who were positive and isolation ‘Blue Teams’ to care for them. The Blue Teams had a separate entrance to the building and separate pathways through the building.”
“We are finally getting to the other side of this,” Carmany said. “Many residents have been recovered, and the Blue Team is now on standby.”
National Church Residences, which operates First Community Village in Upper Arlington, has taken many of the same precautions at its health-care facilities in adherence with state guidelines, including instructing residents to shelter in place in their residences and delivering meals to communities with communal dining, plus screening staff before and after shifts and requiring them to wear personal protective equipment.
“It’s been a major adjustment for everyone, but our staff has been innovative in finding ways to keep families connected to residents and make sure our seniors are socially engaged during this period of isolation,” said Denise Anderson, vice president of senior living. “I’m really proud of the staff for their willingness to become more than just caregivers to our residents.”
As of June 25, First Community had 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff in its health-care facilities, according to NCR.
“We have experienced COVID-19 cases, both resident and staff cases,” Anderson said. “In these situations, we have been able to react quickly and use assertive testing to contain the spread of the virus.”
Friendship Village Columbus in Northland closed its dining room, shut down activities and began screening residents each shift for symptoms, temperature and oxygen levels in response to COVID-19.
Administrator Aubrey Eley said one of the challenges of these policies, while effective, is the sense of isolation they’ve brought upon residents.
“One of the most difficult aspects of this pandemic has been the social isolation of residents,” she said. “Our team actively tries to engage residents, but we cannot replace those much-needed visits from their families, as well as the interactions they typically get in group activities and dining.”
Peggy Keener, an 84-year-old former nurse and a resident of Wesley Glen for more than seven years, said she approves of the efforts the facility has taken to combat the virus within the community.
“I have been very much impressed with the way they have professionally handled this,” she said.
“It’s not an easy situation because we are all getting a little bit of cabin fever – although we can go outside and walk the grounds, and we have beautiful grounds to walk.”