Assisted living under COVID-19

Facility lockdowns, thorough sanitizing, and waving through windows are the new routine at assisted-living facilities, including Arbor House Retirement Cottages in Marble Falls. Staff photo by Alex Copeland

Not all stay-at-home measures are created equal, and for vulnerable and immunocompromised residents, measures undertaken for safety and health are rigorous.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strict guidelines to protect residents in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, memory care facilities, and other specialized senior homes from a coronavirus outbreak.

“Our staff is taking (residents’) temperatures several times a day,” said Rhonda Tedford, executive director of Arbor House Retirement Cottages in Marble Falls. “Staff is wearing masks. Really, it’s all about practicing our infection control. Washing our hands, hand sanitizing.”

CDC guidelines include prohibiting inside visitors, forbidding residents from leaving a facility, and limiting social interaction by canceling group activities and events. This has facilities juggling dining times and overseeing interactions so residents can maintain social distancing. No visitors are allowed inside and no one can leave, unless for a medical emergency.

Despite the isolation, morale has remained high at Arbor House, Tedford said, in part because families are making the extra effort to stay in contact with loved ones.

“We’ll have family members that will come up to Mom or Dad’s window and wave at them,” she said. “Families call. We do have the memory care, and it’s truly difficult on those family members because our memory care residents, some of them cannot verbally communicate. Any time that family member calls, they make sure they get the phone up to Mom or Dad’s ear so that resident can at least hear their family member, and I think that is really important.”

Maintaining a high morale is important, agreed Becky O’Hair, director of Kingsland’s Windchime at the Village assisted-living facility.

“Because of depression and all that, that makes people sick real fast,” she said. “So, we try to keep them busy.”

Outside support has been particularly helpful at Windchime. With supportive phone calls from the sheriff and chaplains as well as donations of homemade masks, locals have stepped up to contribute, O’Hair said.

“We’ve had so much support. Every week, two or three times a week,” O’Hair added. “Outside support has been wonderful. Even though they’re not able to come to the building, they’ve been wonderful just with their phone calls.”

Arbor House also has been on the receiving end of community charity with donations of essential goods.

“Our family members have been very understanding and patient with us,” Tedford said. “We’ve had some great family members, even people in the community we don’t know, drop off food, or they’ll drop off supplies like toilet paper or disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizers. Those things are the most crucial supplies.”

She’s grateful for the patience and understanding during these uncertain times.

“We love their mom and dad just as much as they do,” Tedford said. “That’s what’s most important to us. I know it’s difficult not being able to see your loved ones, but we’re taking the best care we can of them. We’ve put all of these protocols in place to keep them safe and to keep them healthy.”

For more on how COVID-19 is affecting the Highland Lakes, visit the DailyTrib.com coronavirus resource webpage.

alex@thepicayune.com

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