March 15, 2021
This year, COVID-19 has brought safety to the forefront in communities. Since the onset, we’ve had five residents and eight staff members test positive for the virus. Compared to what was happening around our area, we did relatively well.
I think the two things that have helped us navigate throughout this process are transparency and consistency. We’ve been very transparent with the staff, with the residents, and with other stakeholders about the probability of COVID spreading in a setting like ours. As soon as someone tested positive, we communicated that to the staff, the family members, and the residents.
Part of transparency is using different forms of communication to get the information out quickly. We have a group text app that I use to send messages out, and we also send emails.
Within that same vein of transparency, we communicate not just when we have a positive case. I also send weekly updates sharing that there have been no positives. The longer you go without communicating with people, the more they begin to fill in the blanks themselves—and they begin to think the worst.
Once I didn’t send out the communication as quickly as people were expecting. There was a skilled nursing facility in our area that had a large outbreak; it was on the news. My phone was blowing up all night long with people concerned that it was our community.
That was greater motivation to me to be sure I own the communication, that we’re sending it out in a timely manner, and that it’s accurate. This is a lot to get people to understand in a short amount of time.
Pegasus has done a good job providing the communities with general guidelines on how to communicate with the families. In our community, you can’t send out something that sounds scripted. We make our communications as personal as possible—like a conversation, the way we communicate in person, or the way we’re talking now.
It’s also important to communicate what happens when we do have positive tests. Some families were fearful that if their loved one tested positive, they’d no longer be able to stay here—and that’s certainly not the case. We’re trained and equipped on how to take care of residents who test positive. We have rooms for isolation, appropriate personal protection equipment and protocols in place, so we can continue to give them the great care they’re accustomed to.
Hourly associates and the direct care staff emulate what they see community leadership team doing. We have to know the set protocols and constantly follow these. We need to make sure they have the information not only to do their jobs successfully—they have families they go home to and lives outside of this community. So the communication we craft is not only so they can take care of the residents—which is certainly important—but so they can in turn be able to safely interact with their families, and hopefully not introduce the virus into their households.
The same practices apply. We send out weekly staff communications, and as soon as a resident or associate test positive, all are notified. We use appropriate signage in the community to identify those who are positive or could be so associates will know the environment they’re getting ready to enter and can wear the right type of PPE.
Another piece that’s important to keeping the associates safe is giving them an opportunity to tell you when they identify areas that need improvement, if they see gaps in the protocol. It’s easy for community leadership to say to implement these things, but we’re not on the floor day in and day out—and we may not notice those gaps.
Lines are open
We’ve done our best to make sure residents can communicate with their loved ones via Zoom. We’ve had our second dose of vaccine. We’re now allowing safe distance visits—outdoors, with the appropriate PPE—and the response to that has been huge. Each community leader has a designated wing for which we’re responsible for, ensuring the resident is able to communicate with loved ones on whatever media is available to the resident.
You have to keep your eyes open for depression, because there’s been an uptick of that in the industry. We’ve been fortunate that we didn’t see that. I think it helped that we do our best to make sure they have those lines of communication open with family members and loved ones.
This article is excerpted from a longer interview. If you are an executive director with a CDAL certification and would like to write a piece or participate in an interview, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.