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Staff living, working at nursing home to contain virus “amazing bunch of people”

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Cathy Dobson

Extraordinary measures taken by staff and management at Vision Nursing Home could see a COVID-19 outbreak at the Sarnia long-term care home officially end Saturday.

“Everyone is working to stay upbeat and obviously we hope it will be over,” said program service co-ordinator Kerri Hill.

She is one of three Vision managers who took the extreme precaution, along with several staff, to live onsite and work exclusively in the unit in which the novel coronavirus was detected April 23.

It’s been two weeks of isolation for them and the 32 residents in the home’s Superior unit, where four residents and two staff tested positive for the virus.

“For the most part, our residents are quite happy and morale is good,” said Hill.

The three managers were joined by 10 staff, all willing to leave their families, in order to contain the virus. They are living in apartments adjacent to the nursing home. One worker is living in a camper parked nearby.

Staff is making the best of it, but the days can be long for the residents, said Hill.

“They are used to family visits and going to the dining room.  And we have some residents who like to wander and don’t understand what’s going on in the world. That’s what breaks my heart,” she said.

“We explain it and we spend extra time talking to them, sitting with them, playing a game and doing a lot of Facetime.”

Two COVID-19 deaths on Superior unit this week were particularly difficult.

“In one case, public health allowed one family member in full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to visit with their loved one near the end.  But in another case, a visit wasn’t possible and that’s hard.”

“They would Facetime with an iPad,” said Hill.

“The nurse would be in with them and I’d sit in the hallway and cry, just knowing family members couldn’t be there.

“We’ve spent a lot of time reassuring family that their loved one is not alone.”

Superior unit staff who are not staying onsite follow strict protocols that include wearing PPE, using a separate entrance, taking temperatures frequently, and minimal contact in the community, said Vision’s CEO Heather Martin.

“The people working in Superior are heroes who stepped forward,” she said. “They are in for the long haul. That takes real commitment.

“Our staff is coming to work every single day, watching our residents with a greater lens because we are worried.

“We are doing everything we can to keep (COVID-19) out of the home.”

Martin said there is no official protocol that calls for staff to stay onsite through an outbreak.  “It’s about creativity that comes in all shapes and forms,” she said. “It makes me extremely proud and thankful.

“This is an amazing bunch of people.”

Vision staff who do not work on Superior unit are also grateful for those who do.

“I was supposed to be working there when the positive tests came back but my manager, Kerri, told me to go to another unit and said she was going into Superior,” said recreation facilitator Karin Moir.

“Kerri is sacrificing for her staff.  That’s leadership. That’s phenomenal.”

Martin said the emotional strain of working in long-term care during a pandemic takes a toll and some of her employees are too anxious to continue.

Prior to the first positive COVID-19 tests at Vision, she hired eight new staff to help on all floors, then added six more when the province agreed hospital staff could be seconded to long-term care facilities.

“It’s wonderful to have these extra hands,” she said.  “We are testing constantly, every time someone has a little sniffle, and we’ve had no more positives.

“We’re really hoping that the outbreak will be over this weekend and we can go back to just pandemic protocols.”

Hill had a final message for the community.

“When we chose to isolate with the residents, we did it to stop the spread of COVID-19, both in the community and in the nursing home,” she said.

“I wish the community would understand that. It’s frustrating when I find out more than one member of a family is going shopping.

“I get that people are bored at home but more than one person shouldn’t shop.  Isolation is the key to beating this thing.”

 

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