Public health experts promised COVID-19 wouldn’t discriminate. But the numbers are in, and more than 80% of deaths across the U.S. are seniors 65 years and older. At one local long-term care facility, they’re fighting back.
“Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our staff and residents, we’ve not had one case of COVID-19 in our facility,” Kris-Leigh Assisted Living Vice President Shirley Robinson said on May 19.
Establishing rigorous health protocols has been instrumental in the success of the 62-bed nursing home in fighting the novel coronavirus. Guests are no longer permitted into the Severna Park facility. Employees sign forms confirming no international travel and no contact with visitors from overseas. When staff arrive each day, a health screening is conducted and their temperature is taken. If flu-like symptoms are identified, they cannot work their shift.
“It’s been challenging,” Robinson said, “but it’s brought our team closer together. Our common purpose is to keep our residents safe.”
Protocols for residents have also been introduced. If symptoms appear among the 57 current residents, they are transported immediately to a local hospital for testing. This early intervention has produced an outcome of zero positive tests. After the requisite 14-day waiting period, residents are then returned to Kris-Leigh, a stark contrast to state mandates in New York and New Jersey that required COVID-positive patients to be admitted into nursing homes.
According to health experts, one factor in lessening the risk of COVID-19 is reducing the amount of viral load in a given physical space. Accumulating mostly indoors, viral load primarily targets immune-compromised individuals with age-related comorbidities. Exposure to sunlight is a key component to reducing viral load. According to Northwestern University, Vitamin D deficiency is closely correlated to COVID-19 death rates.
“Lots of sunlight, healthy diet and movement are part of our regimen,” confirmed Anne Ward, the activities director at Kris-Leigh. “We hold lots of activities on our back deck that overlooks Cypress Creek.”
At Kris-Leigh, spiritual health is emphasized as well. Pre-COVID church services were always held in the building. Now, daily devotionals are conducted by Ward. On Sundays, the staff and residents view services on television. But keeping spirits high doesn’t end there.
“On the day the curve flattened, we threw a parade,” Robinson said. “The procession began on Route 2. There was a police escort. Residents sat out front as families with cars, decorated, circled our driveway. Residents were waving. There were posters and banners. Families were cheering.”
As testing becomes more prevalent across the nation, the official infection rate is bound to increase. But if long-term care institutions apply the same unity of purpose exemplified by the staff at Kris-Leigh Assisted Living, lives will be saved and mortality rates will remain low.