By Dwayne J. Clark, Founder and CEO, Aegis Living
Nobody could have imagined a situation like the one we are facing right now in our country. More and more cases of the coronavirus are diagnosed daily; we have empty streets while businesses work to stay afloat and unemployment has reached an all-time high. And while we are seeing areas of hope, it’s hard to see a true end in sight.
The first U.S. outbreak took place at a skilled nursing facility in Seattle, making the city ground zero for the pandemic in this country. Being based in nearby Bellevue, Aegis Living has been in this epicenter for Covid-19. While every day, hour, even minute brings new discoveries, we have learned a few key lessons from the frontlines of managing active Covid-19 cases at one of our Aegis Living communities.
Putting many of these practices in place, we successfully mitigated the spread of the virus and as of today, we have no new cases of the coronavirus in this community.
So, what did we learn?
Become an expert. Before the virus hits your community, immerse yourself in the latest research and science. Proactively work closely with medical professionals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local public health authorities. The more we understand about the virus and latest recommendations, the better equipped we are to fight it.
We know today that the severity of the virus contracted depends on three key factors: the potency (or viral load of an infected person), frequency of exposure and how long someone is exposed.
We have also learned that the virus can be passed person to person but also from equipment or another object to a person. That’s why enhanced infection control and sanitation protocols remain our best lines of defense – frequent disinfection of high-touch services and all equipment, community-wide isolation and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by all staff.
Identify and track your patient zero. Those who are curbing infection fastest are tracking their patient zero, or the first person to become infected.
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Once you identify this person, track every step and every person they were in contact with so you can be proactive with residents and staff that may be exposed, including isolation and other measures to contain spread. We saw South Korea do this really well by using advanced tracking applications and other measures to alert those in the community who may be at risk.
Develop a high sensitivity to the disease. While symptoms don’t tell you everything, the earlier you can discover signs of illness the better.
We implement daily temperature checks and oxygen saturation level screening for all residents. By staying on top of residents’ health, we notice changes in condition much more quickly. We monitor and screen staff before every shift and have taught them how to identify early signs of illness before they come to work. Equally important is having enough PPE supplies to reinforce this culture of safety and vigilance.
Train and take care of your staff. Give your staff the tools and training they need to take care of themselves and protect their health and well-being – how to disinfect, how to wear PPE, how to lower their risks of exposure when out in public.
We used every communication tool possible to help educate our staff. We spent time during company stand-up meetings and calls sharing best practices, and used onsite signage, emails and more to share what we were learning. Like yours, our staff is working around the clock to implement these new standards and be there for our residents. We have to be there for them. We’re providing staff and family meals, working with employees on creative childcare solutions, offering telehealth services for free to all staff and more. We’re also encouraging those who are experiencing any financial hardships to use our Potato Soup Foundation, created to support staff during times of need.
Trusted vendor relationships are vital. From a glove or hand sanitizer company to other PPE suppliers, form relationships with providers that can help you weather this storm.
We are seeing people and companies take advantage of the supply chain disruption, so you can’t do business with just anyone. When we have gone to unproven vendors, we found they overpriced and underdelivered. Today, we only order from trusted companies – many that are local – that we have done business with for years.
Form an alliance with a testing partner. We all need more timely results and the only way to achieve this is by forming a partnership with a testing lab. None of us can afford to wait 14 days or more for a resident or staff member to get diagnosed. It’s important to look for a partner that has a long-operating lab and is FDA-approved for COVID-19 testing. It’s also best not to be their first COVID-19 testing client. Aegis has formed relationships with two testing labs – Luminous Diagnostics and Atlas Genomics. We are also actively exploring antibody testing.
You can’t communicate enough. People are scared and they have questions. You know this from your own experience. Communicating regularly (even daily) with staff, families, residents and partners, goes a long way. Be real and authentic, sharing the good and the bad.
Keep residents active and connected, especially those in memory care. It continues to be a challenge to keep memory care residents entertained and in their rooms during quarantine. The most important thing you can do is keep these residents active and engaged with a variety of activities and frequent in-person visits.
This also goes for assisted living residents who are prone to feelings of isolation. We have found new digital solutions such as pre-loaded tablets and setting up FaceTime and Skype visits with families keep residents connected but we can’t stop there. We launched an Aegis-produced show called Aegis Live full of programming. Our team also delivers daily activity packets tailored to resident likes, we have a new movement program that gets residents outdoors and even started hallway activities like mini musical concerts with doors open or theme nights for residents.
Be ready for the long-term impact on your residents’ health. We have found residents, especially our assisted living residents, need continued support long after recovering from COVID-19.
For example, the virus can affect your ability to taste and impact appetite which can then lead to failure to thrive if you’re not careful. We have been exploring alternative therapies, even CBD, with family and doctor’s consent, to help residents maintain an appetite while they bounce back.
Share stories of hope to curb the fear: Seniors are recovering every day. We are seeing stories of individuals all around the world, some well into their 80s, 90s, even 100s recovering and getting back to life. While you report out on confirmed cases, remember to share and celebrate those who are returning home and doing well.
How we respond to the virus today will shape the future of our industry for years to come. It’s up to us to navigate this together. There is no other path forward – for our residents, staff and families.
Editor’s Note: Dwayne Clark will be sharing further thoughts on Covid-19 on April 28, as the guest on SHN TALKS. Click here to register.
Dwayne J. Clark founded Seattle-based Aegis Living in 1997, having previously held positions with Leisure Care and Sunrise Senior Living. Today, Aegis employs more than 2,000 staff members across its growing portfolio of 32 assisted living and memory care communities, with more under development. Clark is also involved in philanthropy, including through the Clark Family Foundation, D1 Foundation and the Potato Soup Foundation. He is an author whose most recent book is “30 Summers More,” published September 2019. His wife Terese is a former nurse, and his children Adam and Ashley both work for Aegis.