Pushing through difficult time

Marisa Lawson, left, and daughter Caroline visit Jean Lawson at River Oaks Place in Lenoir City.

Local assisted-living and rehabilitation facilities are trying to have some sense of normalcy.

As of Monday there have been 198,153 cases of COVID-19 reported in U.S. nursing homes since the outbreak in late February, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Neighborhood at Tellico Village, a Five Star Senior Living facility, has reported nine positive cases, which included five employees and four residents. The latest case was confirmed Aug. 24.

Premier Residences at Tellico Village, another FSSL independent living facility, reported one case July 13 but has had no positive cases since. All cases were confirmed asymptomatic.

“At Premier Residences at Tellico Village, safeguarding the health and well-being of our residents and team members is our top priority,” Jack Kelleher, FSSL spokesperson, said in an email correspondence. “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have adhered to all guidance and recommendations put forth by (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), federal, state and local regulatory and health organizations. Having had no positive cases since July 13, Premier Residences at Tellico Village has started cautiously and deliberately implementing the community’s reopening plan. As such, we are pleased to report that we have qualified for level 2 and are applying for level 3 reopening status under the Five Star Senior Living guidelines.”

According to FSSL’s reopening plan, level 2 includes restricted visitation policies and expansion of internal residential activities. Level 3 will allow for more internal activities, restructured dining options and less restricted visitation.

“Given the vulnerability of the community’s residents, we are taking a measured approach to the reopening process,” Kelleher said. “In addition to requiring that all team members wear personal protective equipment at all times, we continue to limit all non-essential visitors and are undertaking daily health screenings of all team members and essential visitors. All residents and team members are still required to wear face masks, practice social distancing, wash hands frequently and follow our guidelines of taking trips outside of the community only when absolutely necessary.”

Residents at both locations are receiving salon and physical therapy services. Kelleher said both facilities are “resuming small group activities with five individuals or less to keep residents engaged and active.”

He said both communities are enforcing strict health and safety measures as directed by the CDC, including the use of medical-grade disinfectants and a “state-of-the-art cleaning system on an accelerated schedule to mitigate potential infection risks.”

River Oaks Place in Lenoir City has restricted visitation to only those essential to end-of-life care since March 13.

Adam Zussman, Senior Solutions Management Group principal, said guidelines are based on guidance from the CDC and the state. Senior Solutions serves as management company for River Oaks in Lenoir City and Loudon and Lakewood Place in Loudon.

“It will also be based on sort of a curve, the epidemic curve in Loudon County, specifically in how that’s looking,” Zussman said. “We put out guidance that we need to be below 10 cases per 100,000 people for two weeks before we can start even opening the building back up as far as outside visits. Right now we’re doing exclusively window visits to residents.”

Window visits were implemented recently, and Zussman believes it has been a help for residents and loved ones.

“Certainly it’s not an ideal situation and it’s gone way longer than any of us could have imagined, but obviously seeing a loved one is huge for the residents and the families,” he said. “We’ve done, not specifically Lenoir City, but we’ve had window visits and birthday parties where groups of people gather at a safe distance outside of the window to be able to see their loved one. It’s not ideal, and it’s very hard on residences and families. We are sympathetic to that 100 percent.”

Within the facility, Zussman said operations are kept somewhat normal with exception to staff wearing face coverings and residents being advised to remain socially distant. Dining is still in place, and activities are encouraged.

“That allows us the ability to maintain a sense of normalcy inside the building,” he said. “In addition to the window visits, we’re prepared with tablets for anybody that wants to FaceTime with loved ones or Skype with loved ones. Doing all we can to keep the family visits as frequent as possible.”

A hair stylist is still available for residents but must be tested before entering the building.

There is no timetable on when restrictions will be lifted. Zussman said there have been no positive cases between the three facilities.

“We’re watching that curve daily and monitoring that curve,” he said. “We know where we need to be within a two-week period before we can start looking at loosening the restrictions. That’s something that we monitor very closely obviously because as soon as we can do it in a safe way and are comfortable that we’re doing it within the guidelines to protect the residents, we will do it. We will not hesitate once we’re able to open things back up.”

Morning Pointe of Lenoir City has had similar restrictions since early March. There have been no positive cases, Lindsay Williams, executive director, said.

Non-essential personnel are not allowed, she said, but window visits have been encouraged.

“We have chairs sitting outside the windows in the lobby and we have chairs set up inside and out of the windows, and so that’s kind of an area for the families,” Williams said. “They can sit outside, residents sit inside. If they don’t have a cellphone then we have a cordless phone that we can provide them.”

Face coverings are emphasized inside unless the resident is inside their room, she said. Residents are spaced out during meal time and each have their own individual table to maintain social distance.

Activities are maintained with modifications for safety and have been ramped up to keep some normalcy for residents, Williams said. A stylist is offered but must wear a mask and be tested before entering.

“So we do a lot of Bingo, which the tables are already spaced apart, so we love Bingo,” she said. “Any type of arts and crafts, things like that we can do. We have puzzles throughout the facility with one chair at the table. We’ve had entertainment actually through the window. It’s definitely challenging but we have continued. We’ve actually ramped up our activities believe it or not, so we keep them busy. They’re pretty much back to back to back until 7 or 8 o’clock at night.”