How is the COVID-19 outbreak being addressed on campus?
It’s important to note that the Deutsches Altenheim campus comprises three entities: German Centre (nursing home and post-hospital rehab), Edelweiss Village assisted living, and Senior Place adult day health program. Senior Place services have been suspended for the foreseeable future. At Edelweiss Village, communal dining and group activities have been cancelled and residents are being strongly urged to stay inside their apartments, whenever possible. To date, there are no suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Edelweiss Village.
The information that follows pertains solely to German Centre at this time.
Are all residents being tested for COVID-19?
Until recently, testing supplies have been limited and guidance from the CDC and DPH (Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health) has been to test residents who became symptomatic. Since the pandemic began, we have been proactively testing residents who displayed any sign of possible infection, but test results often had a seven-day turnaround time.
Recently, tests have become more widely-available, and with the approval of DPH, we will begin testing all residents once the requested supply of tests arrives. The turnaround time for test results has also improved to approximately three to five days. It is our hope that by April 25, all German Centre residents will have been tested.
What happens when a resident tests positive for COVID-19?
First, when a resident is tested for the virus, we place that individual on droplet precautions, which means staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when interacting with them. Residents whose test result is positive are immediately placed in isolation, which means they may not leave the room and their door remains closed, unless that is unsafe for the occupant(s) of the room. When staff enter the room, they are required to wear a full complement of PPE: masks, face shields, gowns and gloves, and the resident must also wear a mask when interacting with staff. Whenever possible, we try to move the test-positive resident into a private room or cohort them with another COVID-19 positive resident. At least daily, we review positive and negative test results and make appropriate room changes, if necessary.
Isn’t it possible that STAFF are bringing the virus into the building with them?
Each staff member is screened for fever and respiratory symptoms as they report to work each shift. Staff members who display symptoms or a temperature over 99° are prohibited from reporting for duty. They are directed to contact their primary care physician for testing and are not allowed to return to work for two weeks or when cleared by a negative test result or by their physician.
For the protection of both our residents and staff, all members of our staff must wear masks throughout the building, and all caregivers, including housekeeping, are wearing appropriate PPE. Continuous sanitization of all surfaces is an ongoing process.
Are all residents confined to their rooms all day?
For the most part, yes. Per DPH suggested protocol, it is in their best interest to refrain from movement around the building. Containment can be quite challenging, however, with residents who are cognitively impaired. As the number of test-positive cases increases, it’s imperative to isolate the infected from the unaffected. Those who are not affected are not alone, however, as many have roommates and/or are receiving visits from activities staff. As of mid-March, all communal dining and group activities were suspended throughout the campus.
What is the Activities Department doing to help residents stay connected with family and friends?
Families and staff have been very creative! We introduced FaceTime to most of our residents as an option to see and hear from loved ones. Families also drop by to visit through windows or draw messages on signs or on the pavement outside the building. The Activities Department, as with other departments, has been affected by this virus and is not currently running at optimal staffing levels. They are reaching out to, or responding to requests from, families for FaceTime/Skype visits, to the best of their ability. We are hoping to receive additional tablets to expand this activity for residents who are more adept at using them independently.
Is my family member better off if I bring them home during this pandemic?
Each family must make this decision for themselves. Individuals are living in nursing homes because they need higher levels of care than can be provided at home. In addition to ensuring that daily care needs are met, families must consider whether they can ensure the environment is free from potential contamination. Those in nursing care who have cognitive impairments may become disoriented or agitated if a family moves them from an environment that feels familiar. Ultimately, every family must weigh and balance the risks.
We know that everyone at Deutsches Altenheim is working hard to keep residents safe and healthy. We, as the family, feel helpless to protect and advocate for our loved one. How can we expect to receive information to help ease our concerns?
We completely understand and are sympathetic to your feelings of helplessness. You have entrusted us with the well-being of your loved one. We do not take that charge lightly. Things are changing daily and, at times, hourly. Regulatory guidelines frequently change, resident conditions change, staffing levels change, and PPE supplies change. Our website has the most up-to-date information. We strive to send weekly email updates, and we communicate directly, by phone or email, with affected family members when the situation warrants it. We do not want families to feel disconnected from what is happening here on campus, and we strive for transparency in all of our communications, with a frequency that is manageable.
How many residents are currently affected by covid-19?
This is a reasonable question and, unfortunately, difficult to answer. New tests are performed and pending test results are received nearly daily. We are entering the presumed “peak” period in Massachusetts. As stated before, we will soon be testing all residents who were not already tested. We anticipate the number of positive test results will increase. Conversely, a few of our early test-positive residents are already receiving negative test results: per CDC, two consecutive test results indicate recovery. Sadly, we have also experienced deaths. To keep the public informed to the best of our ability, we intend to post semi-weekly on our website the numbers of positive cases on our campus and the number of deaths of residents who had tested positive for the virus. We hope this will give you a clear picture of the COVID-19 impact at Deutsches Altenheim.