Four months after the state shut down all visitation to adult care facilities across New York State in response to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, highly anticipated guidelines for re-opening visitation were finally released late last Friday, July 10. Two area senior care communities, Lutheran Jamestown and Heritage Ministries, spent the weekend reviewing the fine print in those guidelines and are working together on a phased re-opening of their campuses. To them, collaboration is key in making sure the community understands and adheres to the new restrictions and can be reunited with their families as soon as possible.
“We are excited to connect families with their loves ones again in the near future, as are our colleagues at Heritage Ministries,” said Tom Holt, President and CEO of Lutheran Jamestown. “One thing we need to make very clear, however, is that re-opening of our campuses will happen in phases much like the state’s economy. We have to be smart and we have to be safe. Visitation is going to look very different than is once did,” said Holt.
The NYS Department of Health indicated that re-opening adult care facilities to visitation could begin on July 15, but it is expected that 90% of facilities or greater will not meet the criteria to open on that day. Many will be delayed weeks or months, depending on the region they are located, the levels of care offered in each facility, and several other factors. Operators state-wide were issued strict guidance from the DOH outlining a certain set of criteria that each facility must meet before they are able to begin visitation. The submission of a re-opening plan is one of them.
Lutheran is expecting to open their assisted living program next week and their skilled nursing facility in two weeks. Heritage plans to open two of its three skilled nursing facilities as well as their assisted living facilities next week with the opening of their third skilled nursing facility to be determined. Independent senior housing for both organizations remains open as it has the entire duration of the global health crisis.
“We’re very fortunate to live and operate in a smaller community where we have put ourselves in the best position to not only meet the requirements asked of us, but also shift and adapt as time goes on and things change,” said Lisa Haglund, CEO of Heritage Ministries. “The community’s patience and understanding is important when it comes to the new normal of visitation on our campuses,” said Haglund.
Leaders from both organizations explained that visitation will not be a “doors open” approach as it used to be. In fact, visitation on campus is required to be outdoors (weather permitting) with no visitation in resident rooms or care areas unless medically necessary. Social distance, use of sanitizing agents, and facial coverings must be required at all times to prevent the spread of infection during visits. Plus, visits need to be scheduled in advance and each facility will have different limits on the amount and frequency of guests on campus at one time.
The urge to hold, kiss, and hug family members and friends will be hard for many, but doing so is also prohibited and could come at a cost.
“We have been told in great detail by our regulators that any guest who violates the social distance instructions given to them during their visit will be prohibited from future visits until the health crisis is over,” said Haglund. “With no end in sight for this COVID-19 threat, the last thing we want is for any one person’s separation from their family to be extended indefinitely,” she said.
If social distance is violated during a visit, that resident will need to undergo a fourteen (14) day quarantine period. Aside from the personal consequences that social distance violation may have on an individual guest, the risk of infection it presents could set an entire facility back should anyone introduce an unwanted pathogen to a frail population via their loved one.
“This certainly is not the way we envision our communities but it is the reality we face together,” said Holt. “Staff at all of our facilities have done a remarkable job keeping themselves safe while not at work and keeping our residents safe while at work,” he said. Both organizations are getting creative with their re-opening plans, including outdoor “picnic” areas, visitation pods, getting business office staff involved with scheduling and monitoring visits, and more. “All efforts that can be done will be done to bring families and their loved ones together in the safest way possible,” said Holt.
Both Lutheran and Heritage nurse managers, social workers, and administrators will contact their respective families directly with the appropriate sanitation protocols, visitation requirements, and scheduling details when they are ready to receive guests.
The mission of Lutheran Jamestown is to offer a continuum of care that supports an individual’s journey through life with compassion, dignity, and respect.
The mission of Heritage Ministries is to serve others through Christ-centered ministries which promote hope, dignity, and purposeful living.