No industry has been challenged more by the Covid-19 pandemic than those that house and cater to the elderly. Senior living facilities in Falls Church serve as a microcosm of the adjustments made throughout the nation where keeping its residents safe is balanced by preserving its sense of community.
Local senior living communities, or long-term care facilities as they are classified by the Virginia Department of Health, did not escape the losses that have jabbed nursing homes when coronavirus cases took off in the spring.
Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads reported 40 total cases and three deaths, according to Goodwin House President and CEO Rob Liebreich. Of those 40 cases, Liebreich said 11 were from residents, with two dying from Covid-19 complications in May and the third dying this past month. Twenty-nine staff members tested positive for the virus and all made full recoveries.
Vijay Maharajan, executive director of Chesterbrook Residences based just north of the City of Falls Church, said that his facility had experienced 28 total cases with six resident deaths due to Covid-19 complications.
According to the VDH website, it lists Chesterbrook as an “Outbreak Pending Closure” case that has had a total of 31 cases and seven deaths. Maharajan responded with his own data and said it had been verified by the Fairfax Health District, which gave the facility the “all clear” by July after its most recent positive case in June.
The state’s department of health also said that The Kensington Falls Church is classified as an “Outbreak Pending Closure” and had endured a total of 27 cases and five deaths. However, Amy Feather, the executive director for The Kensington, said that its last resident case was in May and the Fairfax Health District gave its facility the “all clear” in June.
“We are continually adjusting our infection control policies based on guidance from the [federal], state and local health [officials],” Maharajan wrote to the News-Press. “This has meant implementing strict staffing protocols, limitations on visitors, social distancing, modified dining hours, and more — all with the goal of preventing Covid-19 from entering or spreading in our community.”
Testing has been the primary tool used to detect and slow localized outbreaks in these facilities.
Chesterbrook and The Kensington both follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and VDH guidelines that advise monthly tests for staffers. Both also test residents and staffers if they show any Covid-19 symptoms. Maharajan added that staffers typically choose to get tested at least once every two weeks as a precaution, and residents can get tested anytime they want free of charge.
At Goodwin House, Liebreich noted that the testing regiment is different for the facility’s various populations. For the skilled nursing residents, staffers and residents get tested once a week, or even more if the local positivity rate shoots up. The same schedule goes for assisted living residents, but independent living residents are tested once a month and every staffer every one to two weeks.
And of course, loads of personal protective equipment and deep cleanings have become another part of everyday life.
Liebreich’s point about how essential the local positivity rate has been part of the reason why he’s shared the company’s Covid-19 Playbook with area businesses, daycare providers and other senior living facilities.
“We know that we’re only going to be successful when the positivity rate of our communities goes down, and that’s been a huge focus of ours, and we were encouraging every provider to be like us,” Liebreich said. “Be a strong beacon of support for the community, and for each of the communities that our provider serves.”
It hasn’t been for everyone. For example, Maharajan added that two residents decided to move out of Chesterbrook when the pandemic was starting out in March.
Keeping staff to stay on board and help through the pandemic, meanwhile, has been up and down. It’s common for people to work in multiple senior living communities, which has been identified as a contributing factor in spreading coronavirus to vulnerable populations.
Liebreich said that Goodwin House lost over 100 employees when it asked its staff to commit to working with them only, since many employees work at multiple facilities. Maharajan said that Chesterbrook lost some of its part-time employees to their full-time work elsewhere, along with a few new mothers who decided to take a hiatus over health concerns for their families.
But the staff that stayed were treated to general pay increases or hazard pay at all three facilities, as well as additional shifts to make sure they didn’t experience any financial problems on top of their daily concerns over the coronavirus.
Cultivating the communal bonds that make senior living facilities so appealing to older adults has continued, albeit in modified fashion.
For instance, concerts in the garage, yoga on the terrace and outdoor activities are still taking place at The Kensington, with indoor activities such as sip and paint and screenings of Hamilton also happening. Chesterbrook is providing in-room programming and chair games that residents can participate in either virtually, outdoors or in small groups. And gym visits and art classes are offered at Goodwin House as are clinical pastoral visits, where people who are trained as hospital chaplains make welfare checks on residents.
Family visits are another part of the equation that has been reintroduced as the threat of the virus has died down. While they are distanced, masked up and outside, such as at Chesterbrook, or in heavily sanitized rooms, which is at The Kensington and Chesterbrook, Goodwin House allows families to take a resident off-site if they are comfortable with it. Although, the visitors have to be tested before showing up at the facility.
None of this is argued as a replacement for how residents, staffers and visitors interact at their respective facilities, but it’s made for a decent substitute for the temporary normal of the pandemic.
“Even though we have had to give up some things, like regular and spontaneous hugs, our team members and our residents have kept their smiles and those are bountiful.” Feather from The Kensington wrote to the News-Press.