SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — When two residents who had COVID-19 were able to return to their neighborhood at Avera Prince of Peace Retirement Home on April 15, it sparked a celebration.
“It was a celebration there and I guarantee you, everyone (across) Avera celebrated,” said Jay Gravholt director of media relations at Avera Health.
A staff member recorded a video of the two residents being wheeled from their COVID-19 isolation area back to their room areas, or neighborhoods, in the health care facility.
“It was fun. It was very fun,” said Nick Thompson, Avera Prince of Peace’s quality and infection control supervisor.
Just day earlier, the staff at the facility mourned the loss of a resident who died from COVID-19.
“I can remember Nick told me…that if everything stayed the same, they could return tomorrow,” Avera Prince of Peace administrator Justin Hinker said. “There was just this sense of relief.”
Residents who recovery from COVID-19 is not something that happens at every health care nursing facility in the U.S. There are nearly daily reports of deaths in nursing homes across the country.
On April 1 Johns Hopkins University reported that 400 nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the U.S. were COVID-19 hotspots.
Hinker and Thompson said Prince of Peace must remain diligent in handling COVID-19 but they are also discussing the possibilities of returning to some of what was a daily routine before the COVID-19 cases were diagnosed.
Thompson said one of the keys to the care center’s approach to COVID-19 was to immediately isolate the residents who were suspected of having COVID-19.
“The key for us was containing it,” Thompson said.
Care center residents can often display symptoms similar to the flu or even COVID-19 and some may have difficulty expressing how they feel.
“Residents may have chronic conditions,” Thompson said. “Luckily our staff knows our residents well.”
Staff noted any fevers, coughs, or sore throats. If a resident already had a history of a cough, they watched for changes in that cough, Thompson said.
Once residents were isolated, staff wore personal protection equipment to work with the residents. Residents were tested for COVID-19 after they are placed in an isolated area.
“We definitely tried to limit the number of staff working with people,” Thompson said as a way to reduce exposure. Prince of Peace also limited the number of staff assigned to residents throughout the care center. The limits mean the same staff worked with the same residents throughout a day.
Thompson said the entire staff learned from dealing with COVID-19 cases. That included reinforcement that preparation is important.
“We were very well prepared,” Thompson said. “When we got the results of our first positive case, we knew exactly what to do.”
The care center starting discussion COVID-19 in February, Thompson said. Staff also completes regularly training that includes using PPE while caring for residents.
Still there were challenges.
The staff stepped up but at least, in the beginning, there were some fears about COVID-19 and bring the virus home to family, Thompson said.
“I’ve been amazed at the heightened awareness of the staff,” Hinker said. “They are asking a lot of questions.”
The questions include ‘Can they do this and should we do this and what about doing this,’ Hinker said.
While there were questions and some fear, staff adapted, Hinker and Thompson said.
Staff and the care center continues to find a balance, Hinker said.
Residents have been restricted to their rooms during the COVID-19 care and the care center has been closed to visitors.
Hinker said residents had been doing some restricted group activities such as limited dining in the dining room and others but when three residents got COVID-19, those limited group activities stopped.
Earlier this week Hinker and two staff doctors conducted a town hall to answer questions submitted by family members. The most common theme was questions about how the care center is mentally and physically caring for their loved ones, Hinker said.
The care center has broadcast activities like bingo from the chapel to a specific channel on residents’ TVs and does one-on-one activities in resident rooms, Hinker said.
Having residents restricted to their rooms “can be as damaging to their mental and spiritual well being from that standpoint,” Hinker said.
But that must be weighed with protecting them from the virus, Hinker said.
And there is the possibility that COVID-19 could return to the health care center, Hinker and Thompson said.
But this week, there was something to celebrate. Staff wearing masks and/or shields lined a hallway as the recovered residents passed by them in a hallway. The coverings may have quieted some cheering but the applause was firm and loud.