Last week, Phoenix Senior Living got the news every other provider is dreading right now: three of its residents at a community in Canton, Georgia, had symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Days later, all three had a presumptive positive test result.
For the Roswell, Georgia-based senior living provider, the moment was indeed monumental — and clarifying. Since the beginning of March, when Covid-19 seemed like a distant threat, Phoenix had prepared for this scenario by educating its employees on what to look for and bulking up its infection control protocols.
So, when the dreaded pandemic had finally arrived at its doorstep, the company knew what to do, according to Yolanda Hunter, the company’s vice president of quality assurance and risk management.
“It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Hunter told Senior Housing News. “For us, it’s validation of why we do exactly what we do every day when we take care of our seniors.”
All three of the residents that previously tested positive are currently asymptomatic and in isolation, Hunter added. Including its community in Canton, Phoenix Senior Living has 28 operating locations spread throughout the U.S. Southeast.
Phoenix is but one of several senior living providers that have grappled with outbreaks of Covid-19 in recent weeks. Other companies with presumptive positive cases among residents or in their communities include Seattle-based Aegis Living; Concord, California-based Carlton Senior Living; and Seattle-based Era Living. Outbreaks were also reported at communities managed by Louisville-based Atria Senior Living and Winter Park, Florida-based Holiday Retirement.
While the outbreak is still in its early stages — and public health officials have warned it will get worse before it starts to get better — Phoenix has received an early lesson regarding what to do in the face of a global pandemic. Other senior living providers may be able to use their experience as a blueprint for dealing with possible infections later on.
Covid-19 crash course
Phoenix first began training its employees on Covid-19 on March 2. At that time, the U.S. had just over 100 known cases, with many of them concentrated on the other side of the country in Seattle.
“We were able to outline the signs and symptoms and educate the associates on what to look for in our residents to monitor them closely,” Hunter said. “We were aware of how this was impacting the nation, and that our seniors are our frailest population.”
A little over a week later, on March 10, that training paid off. Three residents at the 90-bed Retreat at Canton community had come down with some of the symptoms of Covid-19, which include fever, cough and fatigue. Because they were prepared on what to look for, Phoenix’s staffers were able to identify and isolate the residents, and schedule a Covid-19 nasal swab test to confirm the diagnosis.
“When we saw signs and symptoms in those residents … the employees notified the community’s wellness director and at that point, the physician was notified,” Hunter said. “They were able to get orders from the physician to conduct the test … and that’s when we had the presumptive positives.”
The company’s initial infection protocol included using cleaning chemicals designed to kill diseases, isolating affected residents, restricting the number of residents allowed in its common spaces at one time and delivering meals to residents in isolation. Phoenix has also barred most visitors from entering the building and limited community access to vendors and other service partners.
Phoenix credits its staffing model as helping to clear some uncertainty right away. Because the operator practices a designated staffing model where employees are assigned to the same group of residents each time they come to work, it was easy to identify who came in contact with the affected residents. This saved the company from having to isolate all of its employees, Hunter said.
When the outbreak occurred, the provider’s entire executive team reached out to every resident at the community and their family to share information and inform them of the new plan of action.
“That actually really helped,” Hunter said. “It was comforting to families. They were very supportive and appreciative.”
Since the outbreak began, Hunter has personally fielded many media calls, to the tune of three or four every day this week. But keeping communications open with the press has also helped the provider stay transparent in the midst of a global crisis, she added.
Although it’s not clear how hard Covid-19 will hit the senior living industry, one thing is certain: Phoenix plans to take the pandemic one a day at a time.
“We’re managing through the crisis just like every other provider,” Hunter said. “So, we definitely have no problem sharing our processes and protocols about how we’re dealing with the situation.”