REGIONAL- Few groups have been hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than residents of long-term care facilities. As the pandemic ramped up last year, they experienced the highest infection and …
REGIONAL- Few groups have been hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than residents of long-term care facilities. As the pandemic ramped up last year, they experienced the highest infection and death rates, and in response they were isolated from their families and friends, fellow residents, and the outside world for their protection. Now, as the country slowly emerges from the most dangerous phase of the pandemic, that’s beginning to change, but change isn’t coming without trepidation.
Targeted for the initial wave of vaccinations that began in December, the uptake among long-term care residents was good enough by February that state and federal health officials started planning for better days.
But there are rules, and there is reality. Ever cautious for their residents’ well-being, each individual facility has had to assess internal and community conditions to determine what they are and aren’t ready to implement.
“In some respects, it’s kind of scary,” said Michelle Erickson, director of nursing at Cook Care Center. “We’ve protected our residents for so long.”
After the massive statewide spike in November and December, new cases in the Cook area have stayed in the range of two to three per week, allowing Cook Care Center residents to avail themselves of the new opportunities.
“Those who have been vaccinated can go out to lunch with their family members, which is nice, because they haven’t been able to do that for a while,” Erickson said. “It’s nice for some of them to get out. New residents used to need a 14-day quarantine in their room when they were admitted. Now, if they have received both of their vaccinations, that is no longer required. Most of them are able to eat out in the main dining room if they choose to do so, keeping them six feet apart.”
The changed routines have also benefitted staff morale.
“It’s great to see them be able to reunite with family and get back to living a normal life, to be able to go out and shop or wherever they want to go.”
Conditions in Ely have been more challenging in recent weeks, as the area experienced a March spike in COVID-19 infections that accounted for 40 percent of all cases there since the beginning of the pandemic. Boundary Waters Care Center Executive Director Adam Masloski and his team have been working to strike the balance between meticulously adhering to their COVID-19 response plan and procedures while embracing the new relaxed regulations.
“We are simply overjoyed that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services supports indoor visitation for residents with families and friends residing outside our care community,” Masloski said. “This revised guidance is a refreshing, much needed step towards safely opening our organization to normal operations, including visitations.”
In addition to indoor visits, residents are safely enjoying congregate dining and engaging in activities once again, Masloski said.
Staff vaccinations are well in excess of the 65-percent average for long-term care facilities statewide recently cited by state health officials. The center’s rate of 86.5 percent is nearly as high as that of their residents, 93 percent. Spirits are running high as they implement the new routines.
“Throughout the entirety of this pandemic, our entire team has been a constant source of positivity, compassion, and reassurance for our residents as well as their peers,” said Masloski. “Overall, there’s a genuine excitement throughout the community about the success of the COVID-19 vaccines. The revised guidance relating to off-site trips is something we are proud to follow in order to protect the health and safety of our residents and team.”
In that vein, Masloski also had a request for the broader community.
“We continue to encourage everyone, including those beyond our care community’s front doors, to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by getting vaccinated,” he said.