More than a month into the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have adjusted into the groove of wearing masks and gloves, washing their hands regularly, and social distancing from friends and even relatives.
Cambridge Caregivers (Home health care service in Dallas, Texas), which offers in-home assistance for senior citizens, and Manchester Care Homes, which houses residents in four assisted living homes across the Metroplex, implemented safety precautions long before the rest of the Dallas area did – and they say it’s those measures that have kept their homes COVID-free.
Director of Nursing Sandi Greenberg rotates through Manchester’s numerous care homes, including the headquarters building on Coit Road and assisted living properties in North Dallas, Northwood Hills, Preston Hollow, and White Rock Casa Linda.
“At this time, we have not tested any residents for COVID-19,” Greenberg said. “There is, however, a process for determining whether our residents could possibly have the virus, should any symptoms arise. We have a company in place that will provide testing should we suspect one or more of our residents develop symptoms.”
Proactive Measures Save Lives
Private care is offered for home-bound residents in increments of as little as four hours a day or up to 24 hours a day through Cambridge Caregivers.
The four residences operated by Manchester offer large bedrooms with attached dedicated bathrooms along with living and dining areas; two of the homes are not even at capacity.
“We were on top of [the COVID situation] about two weeks before masks were even thought of,” Greenberg explained. “We met with an infectious disease doctor who recommended that we go ahead and use masks, even that early. I feel like we were ahead of the game. We also started before shelter-in-place [orders were issued]. We wouldn’t let any vendors come in. We started FaceTiming with hospice [caregivers]. We went from just one visitor [per family] to no visitors.”
In fact, a lot of communication now occurs by FaceTime – either with residents and their families or with residents checking in with Greenberg and more than 100 caregivers on staff.
“We’ll go and sit with a resident and call their family,” Greenberg said. “They’re so cute; they’ll be chatting away with me and looking at themselves on the phone. They love seeing their loved ones.”
Staff members regularly address issues like nutrition, skin care, medication, wounds, and education, in addition to reviewing potential COVID symptoms with patients.
A new check-in system requires every employee to sanitize, check their temperature, and answer questions before suiting up in a mask and gloves and going to work. If anyone has even a slight fever (99.5 degrees or above), they’re going home.
“Our houses are small,” Greenberg said. “If one person were to get it, the result could be disastrous.”
“We were on it,” she said. “I’m a big believer in that.”
It just makes good sense to continue the practice of using Lysol wipes to remove germs from door handles, keyboards, phones, and “anything that’s been touched,” Greenberg said.
Surgical masks are worn for a week, then discarded and replaced with new ones. Greenberg said she’d like to replace them more often, but a shortage of supplies has prompted them to clean the masks with hydrogen peroxide and re-use them.
“Some companies have called and donated,” she said. “You can’t find Lysol anywhere. We’re trying to be creative. Every Monday I meet with the owners, fill up my car with supplies, and take them to the houses.”
While Cambridge Caregivers, Manchester Care Homes, and other providers across the country will eventually integrate back to normal, some of the safety measures will remain in place.
“We won’t all of a sudden just tell families to come on in,” Greenberg said. “I would like to schedule visits at staggered times. Normally when families come to visit, they sit in our common area. For a while we may have them in their rooms to minimize exposure to everyone else.”
The check-ins that involve sanitizing, taking temperature, and answering questions will remain in place for a long time, Greenberg added.
“Their immune systems are compromised,” she said of the elderly. “Their lungs can collapse so easily. They may have COPD or congestive heart failure. These are just progressive diseases that the elderly get. They don’t have the ability to breathe as easily. If corona gets into their lungs, they’re not going to fight it off as quickly.”
Keeping the morale up is important as residents are isolated and have less interaction with their loved ones. Each house operated by Manchester hosts activities – including puzzles, arts and crafts, movies, cooking, and reading – with the residents.
“I don’t think COVID is going anywhere for a while,” Greenberg said. “If it’s not COVID, it’s the flu. This is a wake-up call for everyone. The silver lining is watching everyone from the caretakers to management come together and support one another as an extended family.”