TAC Pandemic Response Puts Residents First
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, The Alice Center’s team of nurses, aides, social workers, physical therapists and administrators have been leading the conversation on how long-term care facilities should respond to the crisis. Their hard work and dedication has earned them plaudits from state officials and health care professionals across the region, who say the team’s diligence and attention to detail make them a model of how to both prevent the virus from gaining a foothold as well as how to respond if COVID-19 makes it way into a facility.
That’s exactly what occurred in late October of 2020, when The Alice Center reported its first COVID-19 positive test. In the months since then, the facility’s team has worked at an all-hands-on-deck pace – first to contain the virus and prevent it from spreading further through the building.
“One of the things I found incredible is, at the beginning of this we just did it,” said Lisa Porter, RN, Infection Control and Clinical Educator at the facility. “We were here early, we stayed late; everybody got it done, and the residents were taken care of, which is the most important thing.”
Amanda Hanna, MS, who is a social worker at The Alice Center, said she still remembers what Alice Center Administrator Susan Biondolillo told her on the weekend the facility first received notification of a COVID-positive test.
“One of the things that she said to me that I’ve kept in the back of my mind is: ‘things are going to change, our roles are going to look a lot different as we get through this time’.”
The team’s first move was to create a cohort unit within The Alice Center to house residents who had tested positive. The project, a critical piece of their infection control strategy, required an immense amount of teamwork that included members of Alice Hyde’s Facilities Department, who built and re-built walls to first create, and then extend, the unit; and members of the hospital’s Nutritional and Environmental Services teams, who stepped in to assist with dozens of room changes for residents.
At its peak, said Amanda, the team was moving more than a dozen residents per day – a process that requires packing, cleaning, PPE changes and unpacking, to ensure residents had easy access to favorite items and felt as much at-home as possible. “That required an immense amount of work,” she said. “We saw people from all disciplines come lend a hand. It really was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my time here.”
As the cohort unit grew and then shrank, said Lisa, the Facilities team spent hours building, removing and rebuilding walls – a necessity as the center’s team moved residents onto and off of the unit.
“That was huge for us,” she said. “Every time we had to extend that unit, they were there, whenever we needed them.”
Another critical component of the team’s infection control work is the proper use of PPE, said Kerry Robideau, Lead CNA, who works on TAC’s memory care unit. Breaking the chain of infection with a disease as transmissible as COVID-19 requires time, energy and an absolute dedication to proper PPE use. At one point, working a double during the early stages of the facility’s response, Kerry remembers counting 118 PPE changes through the first half of her shift.
“After that I was so exhausted I just stopped counting,” she said. “You know why you’re doing it, but it changes everything. You’ve got residents who just want a hug, so you give it to them, and then you have to go change.”
On Kerry’s unit, where many residents struggle with memory and comprehension, the community’s support of TAC team has made a tremendous positive impact on both residents and employees. Tele-video technology enables many residents to stay in touch with their loved ones, but challenges remain because they often don’t understand why it’s not possible to meet their loved ones in person.
“What sticks with me is how much our residents miss their families,” she said. “It’s been an emotional struggle, because they don’t understand there’s a pandemic going on. What really helps us as caregivers is the amazing community support we have received.”
The Alice Center team continues to receive letters and cards expressing appreciation for their care of residents, and many community members show their support by dropping off food or sweet treats for residents and employees.
“Those gestures mean so much more than ‘I have a hot meal to eat’,” said Amanda. “They mean somebody knows I am working really hard. It makes us remember why we do this job.”
Amanda said the facility’s Activity Department, which has taken over management of virtual visitation, has played a crucial role in helping residents maintain contact with their families. The department has also hosted special events, like Spirit Weeks during the holidays, for residents that included sending bulletins home to family members. The Alice Center has also used state grant money to purchase animatronic cats and dogs for many residents, as another way to put smiles on residents’ faces.
“I think the biggest thing since the beginning of the pandemic has really been combatting loneliness,” said Amanda. “We’re (residents’) family right now. They need that attention from us, and to see our team really be able to make those connections and make the residents feel comforted and loved, even when fully dressed in PPE. I see them do those little things, whether it’s joking around or making sure they have their favorite blanket or TV show or movie on.”
Though the team’s work is far from over, successful vaccination clinics for residents and employees hosted earlier this month and the facility’s number of COVID cases near zero, mean coming off precautions in the near future a real possibility. It’s something that every member of the Alice Center team – and employees from across Alice Hyde – continues to work hard to achieve.
“I think it’s been really hard,” said Lisa. “But everybody was just all-hands-on-deck throughout this entire period, and we have been there for each other. Every single one of us has an open-door policy; this is our safe zone, and we’re going to continue working hard to keep it safe.”