I am sure by now you have seen some of the images circulating of families unable to visit their loved ones in long-term care facilities. This is arguably the most vulnerable population when it comes to fighting disease and illness of any kind, especially the COVID-19 virus. The nursing professionals and other healthcare staff are doing all they can every day to prevent the infiltration of the COVID-19 virus into these facilities.
Yet, these are our family and friends and they wait with anticipation for our weekly, sometimes daily, visits. We acknowledge the importance of our visits and time spent with them. We are left to wave from closed windows or video chat when possible. Ultimately, we are forced to trust the staff of these facilities to love and care for these people that mean so much to us.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Dana Burnett, RN, who is the Director of Nursing at Cottage Lane Health and Rehab in Little Rock, a local long-term care facility, to find out what it is like now that these healthcare facilities are locked down except for essential staff. The stories she shared brought peace of mind and encouragement that our loved ones are in excellent hands.
When Dana and I spoke, she told me that the health and emotional well-being of their residents was of high priority to the staff during these times of uncertainty and limited visitation. She spoke with compassion and pride as she told countless stories of ways that the staff at Cottage Lane Health and Rehab have rallied around the residents and tried to make this time of quarantine fun and lighthearted.
Dana explained that while most of their residents can fully understand what is going on outside of the facility, some lack the short-term memory capabilities to remember from one day to another why their families are not visiting them. Dana said that once they re-orient the resident to the current crisis, they also try to incorporate meaningful activities to help keep them engaged.
Dana spoke with much appreciation when she told of the lengths that the Activity Directors of the facility have taken during this difficult time. Dana explained that the Activity Directors have increased their work hours to cover 7 days a week. Dana shared that they have secured several tablets and are now scheduling family video conferencing time for each of the residents. She also shared a story about the Activity Directors taking an ice chest and decorating it to look like an ice cream truck, even including the music commonly played throughout neighborhoods on summer afternoons. The staff then “drove” the “ice cream truck” down the hallways and allowed residents to select their favorite ice cream treat from inside.
One activity that Dana spoke of was a game they named “Hallway Scrabble.” Staff line residents up, keeping safe distances, down a long hallway and hand them cardboard letters (much like those used to decorate bulletin boards). The staff will announce a word (such as truck or dog) and residents with the letters needed to form the words will call out their letter until the word has been completed. Hallways compete with one another for prizes such as pizza parties and special treats. This game, Dana explained, is both entertaining and stimulating for the residents.
The nursing staff is ensuring that the residents are compliant with their medications and are observing them for any early signs of change in their health status. The occupational, physical, and other therapists have also played key roles in personalizing therapy sessions so that residents can keep safe distances while continuing their much-needed interventions to improve their health and wellbeing.
The staff have also found creative ways to both educate the residents regarding proper hand washing and reassuring them that they, themselves, are practicing proper handwashing and infection control techniques. Dana shared that staff taught the residents how to properly wash their hands by placing gloves on the residents and having them “wash” their hands using acrylic paints. The purpose of the exercise was to teach residents how to ensure that they adequately washing all parts of their hands. After each resident had performed their handwashing demonstration, the staff helped them to leave their (now paint-covered) handprints on a bulletin board. Dana explained that the bulletin board now serves as a reminder to the residents about their handwashing exercise and the staff’s commitment to keep them safe.
The underlying message of my conversation with Dana was how proud she was of her staff’s unwavering commitment to their residents. She explained to me that most of her staff regularly pick up extra hours in order to provide for their families. She said that the nature of her staff working extra hours and spending little time outside of work has been key to keeping the risk of staff contamination low. She shared that the facility’s parent company has donated meals to the staff to limit their need to leave the building during the day and assured me that staff are thoroughly screened each time they arrive at work.
Dana spoke with confidence that her staff was well trained and able to provide exceptional care, both medical and emotional, for the residents at Cottage Lane Health and Rehab. Dana explained that just months prior to the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff at Cottage Lane Health and Rehab had completed a simulation exercise on a scenario involving a flu pandemic. She said that staff regularly refer to this training and they are seeing the scenario come to life and were trained and ready to protect their residents.
Dana ended the conversation with acknowledgment and appreciation for the support of their parent company and local community. Local churches have filled their outdoor courtyards with singing for the residents. Families have supported the visitation restriction and found creative ways to stay in touch with their loved ones. Most importantly, the staff that these families are trusting to care for their loved ones, are displaying heroic efforts to provide care and hope to this protected population.
Dana Burnett and the staff at Cottage Lane Health and Rehab are Healthcare Heroes helping to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dana Burnett is a graduate of the University of Arkansas Community College-Hope and the Arkansas Rural Nursing Education Consortium (ARNEC).