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Hope in a heart-wrenching year: How courage helped our staff face COVID

By Roy Baber Pioneer Trace Healthcare and Rehabilitation Administrator

For more than 20 years, I’ve worked as an administrator in long-term care facilities. I’ve faced challenges before, from ownership changes to staffing fluctuations to the need to stockpile food and medicine for the anticipated Y2K crisis.

But nothing could have prepared me for the past 12 months.

Here at Pioneer Trace Healthcare and Rehabilitation, we closed our doors to most visitors on March 10, 2020. Not everyone was happy with us. No one likes being told they can’t come visit their loved ones. I understand that.

But we had to follow the best medical advice to protect the people who live here. They trust us to protect their health. I understand the sacred trust. My mother was once a resident here.

The thing that stands out is the heroic way our staff responded

In a long-term care facility, the staff is always busy and rarely has an idle moment — and yet they made time to try to compensate for the loss of visitors. Our staff arranged video conference calls, orchestrated window visits when the weather was nice and helped compensate for canceled activities with creative solutions. For example, bingo was replaced with “hallway bingo” – each resident at their doorway. When the “coffee and conversation” event had to be cancelled, we replaced it by delivering special treats to rooms.

I was impressed by how resolved our staff was. It’s human nature to grumble about change – I do it myself. But with so many changes, coming so close together – with new policies and procedures and protocols – there was rarely a complaint from the staff. (And keep in mind, they were dealing with change in the rest of their life as well – coping with the same pandemic stresses at home as everyone else was.)

But without exception, our staff just buckled down and got it done. They were so successful that we went nine months with only one positive COVID test. (A staff member)

But all we could ever do was reduce our risks — not eliminate them entirely. Eventually, COVID did catch up with us. So on Dec. 4, our first resident tested positive. Within a week, the case numbers had exploded.

We used two by fours and plastic to build makeshift walls to create a safe and effective COVID ward within the dining hall and other once-common areas. It might not have looked pretty, but it was medically sound practice that kept COVID from spreading further.

As seen in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Learn More.

By Roy Baber

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