Circle the Wagons

As COVID-19 began to invade the County, one of our first concerns was protecting the residents of our one long term care facility. They had a solid Infection Control Program, led by their Infection Preventionist. Their plan was good, but none of us were prepared for what was barreling towards us. The vulnerable residents had to be protected at all costs, as well as the staff who cared for them, and that meant enacting policies which, though necessary, were certain to be unpopular.

In March, policies were put in place restricting all visitors except end of life care. Residents were required to stay in their rooms for meals and activities, so almost all socialization was removed from the residents’ lives. Extra services, such as church services and visits from hairdressers, were suspended. These policies were met with mixed emotions. Residents and families tried to be understanding, but many family members worried that their loved one would suffer more from the isolation than they would from COVID, and some realized that their loved one might not still be around when they were finally allowed to be together again. Families were only able to see their loved ones from a distance, through a barrier, and that was difficult. It was very confusing and upsetting to residents with cognitive issues.

The Infection Preventionist was forced to juggle many issues daily, including staffing shortages due to quarantines; isolated and depressed residents who couldn’t see their families; protecting the residents and employees until vaccine was available; coordinating vaccine administration once it was available; increasingly concerned family members desperate to see their loved ones; and completing daily the copious amounts of reporting required (which seemed to change hourly). There were many late evening conversations between CCHD’s Infection Control nurse and the LTCF’s Infection Preventionist, with both near tears at the end of the conversations. The enormous responsibility of protecting such a vulnerable, helpless population, with all of its ensuing issues, was at times overwhelming to these two professionals. It was both difficult and inspiring to watch them endure blow after blow as they maneuvered through every obstacle.

Our local LTCF did not have one patient contract COVID-19 while in their care throughout the entire pandemic. This was truly a remarkable feat, and one that hopefully the community recognizes and appreciates. I know that the employees of that facility felt every day that they were walking into battle, yet they persevered without hesitation. There was a lot of talk of “Heroes” during the pandemic, and perhaps we all got a little tired of the overused term, but I’m not sure there is a better word to describe the employees of Calhoun Nursing and Rehab Center. As a child I loved watching old Westerns, and over the last year, observing their actions, I was reminded of the old cowboy term of circling the wagons, which was a maneuver often seen in these old movies. It was enacted whenever the settlers felt threatened, and they would all join together, “circling their wagons” to offer protection from the approaching enemy. The staff circled their wagons around the residents and each other, and held off the enemy against incredible odds. That’s my kind of movie.


Did you have a family member in a long term care facility during the pandemic? How did you (and your loved one) deal with the separation?

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