State of the Community
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many changes throughout the world, as people have been asked to navigate daily tasks with exceeding care and caution. Few places have been as affected as congregate living communities, and few people have been asked to do more than the residents and staff of the PMMA family.
As the pandemic continues into autumn, we asked Fort Scott Presbyterian Village Executive Director Ginger Nance to talk about the lingering effect of the coronavirus and how the staff and residents have worked together to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone.
“The biggest challenge has been being flexible to learn and change on an almost daily basis while experts, the state and policy makers sent us (providers) information to implement ASAP in order to provide safety for our seniors,” Ginger said.
Additional challenges have included maintaining staffing; educating staff, family, and residents; managing food supply; getting enough personal protective equipment (PPE); keeping staff and residents’ spirits up; and working to keep COVID-19 out of the community.
“Up to the first of August, we kept COVID-19 out of our building. This is a huge milestone as we hear of so many other senior living communities that haven’t been as fortunate,” Ginger said. “We approached it with compassion and tried to keep our residents’ best interests at the forefront of each decision made. Every single employee at the Presbyterian Village was vital as we pulled together to implement the ever changing COVID information.”
The pandemic forced staff and management to find creative ways to secure needed supplies, learn about changing threats, and communicate a great deal of information to a broad audience of stakeholders.
“For quite a while, it was almost impossible to get some of the PPE needed,” she said. “As time goes, we have been able to get more and more of the supplies that we have ordered. Early on we had to go to our local stores to supplement some of our supplies such as Clorox cleaner and hand sanitizer. We have also utilized some of our local pharmacies to get temporal thermometers and a few supplies that we couldn’t get from our contracted vendor. We didn’t leave any leaf unturned. We looked in any possible place to get those necessary supplies because we knew it would mean the difference in keeping the virus and other germs from spreading.”
Adapting to new technology — such as Zoom and other video conferencing tools — helped share information and education about best practices.
“We learned new ways to communicate without being together that were different than we were used to doing in the past,” Ginger said. “We learned to use technology and conference calls to keep everyone abreast of the fast-moving infection control procedures, policies and educational materials that were being implemented so rapidly.”
In the midst of addressing a serious health threat and managing all the logistical chaos created by a global pandemic, staff and management couldn’t afford to overlook the social concerns – such as isolation, fatigue and the potential for waning morale among both staff and residents.
“Every staff member has sacrificed many hours that they would have normally been home with their own families to be here to care for our seniors,” Ginger said. “Some had to be home in quarantine while waiting for test results. During that time, their coworkers stepped up to cover the shifts to ensure our residents’ needs were met. Many have sacrificed vacations and life plans.”
It has been made clear in the past several months the level of genuine love staff holds for the residents in their care.
“Our team loves our residents. There is no doubt about that fact,” Ginger said. “They care very much about our seniors and they would give their life for them if they were asked to. And they have.”
During the pandemic, employees have effectively become a surrogate family for residents, who have been unable to visit in-person. To keep them connected to the outside world, and with their families, tools such as FaceTime and other video applications have been invaluable.
“A few members of our team felt privileged to teach both the resident and their aging family member how to use this technology,” Ginger said. “We have also offered “Glass Time” visits and have made little nooks in a couple of places in the building where it could be a little more private for the resident and family to visit with glass separation.”
Ginger said it’s also been invaluable that staff took the time and effort to really listen to residents when they have expressed concerns and feelings related to the pandemic.
“We hear each other’s concerns, we feel their sadness, we understand their worries about what the future may bring,” she said. “Our seniors hold a wealth of knowledge. Many have experienced things in their lives beyond our dreams. They were probably better equipped to face a pandemic than any of us were. They have shared their experiences with us and have been the forerunners in keeping our eyes on the prize and keeping our faith. I hope when this time in our world passes, I don’t have to face something like this again, but I can honestly say that God put me in a place where I could be surrounded by wonderful seniors who could partner with us to navigate this storm.”
As efforts begin to reopen the community, it will be equally important to exercise patience and understanding to keep moving in the right direction and remaining on a course that allows more flexibility, not less.
“The biggest challenge will be to take small steps. I know we will have to limit the amount and length of each visit for a while to closely monitor so that we don’t get a positive COVID case from a visitor,” Ginger said. “I know how much they miss each other, and I so much want to be able to just let them hug and kiss and spend all the time they’d like. I know that won’t be possible, and it will hurt me as much as it will them having to limit the in-person interaction to keep the 6 foot social distance and infection control measures in place. The last thing we want is to have a fatality from COVID. So even though this will be hard, we have come this far COVID free and we need to continue to be very safe and careful with our steps for those visits for our residents’ safety.”