Local nursing home administrators are well aware of the COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes across the country and are taking precautions to keep the virus at bay.

“There’s no doubt this has been a challenging time both for residents and family members,” said Bill Swanger, senior vice president for corporate communications and public relations with at Diakon, which oversees eight senior nursing facilities, among them Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village, in Lewisburg.

Like other local nursing homes, Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village has been following CDC guidelines for testing, sanitizing and distancing.

“We have a corporate medical director,” Swanger said. “He has a task group (senior living operations and clinical staff, as well as all CDC and Department of Health recommendations) that guides how we work across the system.”

Such procedures are in place so that the nursing homes don’t see outbreaks similar to one at the Milton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which saw at least 109 residents and staff at the facility test positive for COVID-19, according to the latest information available from the state on Friday. Milton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is owned by Bedrock Care of New York.

Diakon recently completed universal COVID-19 testing among staff and residents in all of their centers. They’ve had only one or two staff cases in the past several months, Swanger said. People testing positive immediately go into a self-quarantine for the recommended number of days.

Should a resident test positive, Diakon has developed green, yellow and red zones for their nursing care centers based on test results or regular contact with those outside the center (for example, those leaving the community for dialysis treatment or chemotherapy).

“We don’t have anyone in the red zone at this time,” Swanger said Monday.

Diakon’s website lists detailed procedures for keeping residents and staff safe from the coronavirus, including using proper personal protective equipment, cleaning with an EPA-approved disinfectant and, in previous months, strictly limiting visitors to the nursing care centers.

“Visitation has been extremely limited,” Swanger said. “We are beginning to move forward with visitation plans.”

As state guidelines for visitation restrictions are being eased, Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village will likely use outside spaces or very specific areas of the residences for family visits. Visits will be scheduled online at 30-minute time periods and will have to involve social distancing, mask wearing and no physical touching.

“We certainly understand everyone wants to see their loved ones,” Swanger said, “But this virus can spread so quickly and have severe outcomes. We don’t like having to use all these rules, but we have to protect our residents. That’s our ultimate purpose.”

Richfield Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center, in Snyder County, also follows CDC and Department of Health guidelines as far as testing, sanitizing and distancing.

“We’ve had no COVID issues, thankfully,” said Christopher Bowes, administrator.

Recognizing the effects of quarantine on residents, however, Richfield has come up with a unique visiting solution: the Chatterbox.

On the facility’s front porch, Richfield’s maintenance crew built a simple structure with Plexiglas windows that allows residents and family members to see and talk to each other while still maintaining social distancing, Bowes said.

“Our residents and families here really loved that over the past couple of months,” Bowes said. “It’s kind of like being in a (large) phone booth.”

Amanda Gresh, executive director, Elmcroft of Lewisburg, praised both staff and residents for their work in fighting the coronavirus.

“The health, safety and welfare of all who live and work in our community are our top priorities, and as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and new information emerges, we regularly evaluate and modify protocols as appropriate,” Gresh said. “We continue to follow guidance from local, state and federal authorities, and thanks in large part to our associates and residents diligently following health and safety protocols, we have not had any cases of COVID-19 in our community.”

George (Russ), and Nancy, McKee live in an independent living home at Nottingham Village, in Northumberland. While they are not confined by the regulations governing the Nottingham residential care facility, they take precautions to protect their health and appreciate their independence.

“I have Nan, and she has me,” George, 91, said. “Our family visits often.”

“We still come and go as we’re able,” said Nancy, 90. “We’ve had family members here for dinner. They sit outside, and we sit in our screened porch.”

Lynn Fiedler, of Selinsgrove, appreciates the efforts of Heritage Springs Memory Care, in Lewisburg, where her mother, Alice Longenberger, 91, is a resident.

For the first months of the pandemic, Fiedler visited her mother through a window that was opened slightly at the top. Guests wore masks even though they were outside. As restrictions eased, visits have taken place either in a conference room or outside, in 30-minute time periods—leaving time to sanitize between visits.

“When I get there, they provide a medical mask, N95. They take my temperature and ask screening questions every single time,” Fiedler said. “I’m completely one hundred percent pleased with everything there. Every staff member wears a mask. They’re very, very diligent. They’ve had no cases there at all.”

In the conference room, she is seated at one end of a long table and her mother is brought in to sit at the other end, never crossing paths. No touching is allowed, and both indoor and outdoor visits are supervised by a staff member.

“My mother loves sitting in the sunshine,” Fiedler said.

Under the best of circumstances, residents in long-term care facilities can feel isolated and underappreciated. Keeping up their spirits has taken on new meaning with quarantine restrictions. Regular activities like and arts and crafts projects have had to be tweaked.

“In the last month we’ve begun activity groups with six or fewer residents, masking and six feet apart,” Swanger said.

Activities can include bingo, trivia questions and taking walks.

“We have made a significant effort to have window visits,” Swanger said, adding that they’ve also used Skype, Facebook Live and other technology.

Richfield Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center throws a theme party each week. Past parties have included a beach theme with leis, nonalcoholic mixed drinks and fresh fruit, a Super Hero costume party and Spirit Days with everyone donning Richfield T-shirts. They’ve also sponsored an ice cream truck, with ice cream for everyone, and one day enjoyed a parade.

“We invited families to drive by,” Bowes said. “The street was closed off for 15 minutes or so, and everyone was waving, holding signs and cheering as a way to see their loved ones.”

Elmcroft takes special care to recognize and celebrate key dates and moments, such as birthdays, family traditions, holidays and more, Gresh said.

“Our staff is very dedicated and creative with one-on-one activities with our residents,” she said. “We create special meals and visit residents with fun and healthy snack carts and hydration stations. We also connect our residents with loved ones in video chats using our community’s tablets.”

Fiedler said Heritage Springs has several activities for its residents. One notable event was a live-streamed show of a magician, hosted by activities director Sherri Percoskie.

“She’s fantastic,” Fiedler said.

Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Send e-mail comments to her at CindyOHerman@gmail.com.

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