Since March, senior living communities and nursing homes across the U.S. — especially their vulnerable elderly residents with underlying health conditions — have become ground zero for the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 16,000 nursing homes nationwide, plus up to 45,000 independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities in America. The great majority have seen their number of cases skyrocket.
Though nursing homes and other long-term care facilities account for less than 1% of the U.S. population:
- More than 100,000 fatalities have been logged nationwide by the COVID Tracking Project, which now represents nearly 40% of more than 260,000 deaths (Wall Street Journal, 11/25/20).
- Over the week ending 11/15/20, the Commonwealth of Kentucky logged an average of 2,272 cases daily, an increase of 37% from the average just a few weeks prior (John Hopkins University statistics).
- As of 11/30/20, there were 176,925 coronavirus cases and 1,896 deaths within this state (John Hopkins University statistics).
How Two Communities Flattened The Curve.
Despite these depressing facts, the Managing Partner of two senior living communities in rural Kentucky — Bluegrass Assisted Living — has created an unlikely and quite amazing success story: 84 beds, 42 employees, 7 COVID-19 cases and 0 deaths to date.
We asked Andrew Kluger, JD, what he did differently to not just control, but to stop the spread of this highly infectious virus…
How did you shift the paradigm to prevent cases of COVID-19 from erupting?
“None of us had any idea what the impact of COVID-19 was going to be on the Assisted Living world. We created a protocol with two doctors (one was an infectious disease expert), a nurse practitioner, and our Management Team at each of our two communities, which are 30 miles apart.
“Once we understood how rapidly COVID-19 could spread, we immediately locked down both facilities in mid-March. After we notified the families, there was no push back. They all understood and agreed to protect their family members and our staff.
“Resident visits changed dramatically. We encouraged families to see their loved ones through our windows or communicate through iPads or phones with Zoom or FaceTime.
“As for vendors, we had one entry point at the side of each building where they could leave deliveries. As we brought in each box, we washed everything down.”
How did you prevent residents from catching COVID-19?
“Rooms were constantly cleaned and monitored, by the hour. We tested residents in their rooms. We also used public areas for temperature checks and to ask how they were feeling.
“In our Elizabethtown community, we have only had four residents and three employees get sick. The residents were sent to a local hospital until they tested negative and returned.”
“We did not have to start doing regular COVID tests because in our Bardstown, KY, community, there have been zero coronavirus illnesses so far.
How did you prevent staff members from spreading it?
“The three employees who tested positive were told to quarantine for 14 days in their homes until they were healthy. They were tested when they returned and were permitted to go back to work. Of course, finding replacement staff during that time was a challenge.”
How often were both cohorts tested?
“We performed temperature checks multiple times daily with each shift change for employees, while residents had their temperatures taken numerous times per day.”
What have you learned that you can share with other senior living communities?
“Talk about COVID openly and honestly with your residents, staff, and peers.
“We have weekly Zoom meetings with the Commonwealth of Kentucky Senior Living Association (KSLA) to share our information. They’re working with the Governor and the Commonwealth of Kentucky to develop public policy, assist in interpreting regulatory issues, provide educational opportunities, and connect consumers.”
Would you have done anything differently?
“The truth of the matter is, we did something very intelligent. We listened. We got some very good advice from medical experts and KSLA.
“These were hard decisions to make. We’ve spent about $40,000 for both communities combined on PPE and sanitizing products since March. But in the long run, that spending helped us to save lives. Having zero deaths is a priceless result we can all be proud of.”
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At SGD, we work every day with senior living communities like Bluegrass Assisted Living that offer assisted living, memory care, and other levels of care. We are committed to sharing stories like this that can be a model of how to minimize the effects of the coronavirus, despite its spread elsewhere.
SGD is a San Francisco Bay Area advertising, marketing and branding agency specializing in the senior and boomer markets. We’ve successfully positioned, branded and rebranded senior-oriented companies, weaving traditional and online tactics to create compelling stories that drive response.
About the Author: Gil Zeimer is a Partner at SGD Advertising.