Senior communities battle coronavirus every day

By Aaron Steckman

With all the negative stories out there about nursing homes, I felt it was time to hear from a different point of view. I am the infection preventionist for two large senior living communities, Maple Knoll Village and The Knolls of Oxford, which include long term care nursing home patients.

I woke up on Easter morning the same way I have every morning since mid-January, thinking about COVID-19 and whether or not today is going to be a day that one of my close to 800 residents will develop symptoms, or one of our 650 staff members, or someone in my family, and of course, I worry about myself. I comfort myself in the knowledge that our pandemic response team works together so well and continues to stay on top of everything. I know our staff has accepted all these changes and remain motivated to do their best through it all. And I think about how this all got started.

All the way back in January we met to discuss the possibility of what was coming even though not a single case had arisen anywhere near us. And then it seemed like every week, and sometimes every new day, we had to adjust to another “new normal.” We had to tell family members that they couldn’t physically visit their loved ones and we couldn’t tell them for how long, we stopped all social activities and communal dining, we scramble each week to make sure we have enough supplies to protect everyone in the building knowing that falling short is not an option, we screen everyone that enters the building and give them masks and we make sure everyone has enough hand sanitizer to perform adequate hand hygiene.

These are just the physical changes. Mentally and emotionally things have changed too. Every cough, every wheeze, every little sniffle, or bout of congestion sets off our internal alarms. We find new ways to comfort our residents and use social media to keep them in touch with the people they care about. We reassure people every day that we are doing all we can and that it’s going to be OK. We go out of our way to lift spirits wherever we can knowing the toll this is taking on everybody involved.

We know we have done, and continue to carry out interventions according to CDC, CMS and ODH guidance and we know we started earlier than was even asked of us by health care officials. We feel we have worked to reduce the risk to our senior communities. So far we have been fortunate. Nobody on our watch has tested positive for the virus. Our hard work, vigilance and strict adherence to infection control guidelines have paid off. Every day we hope and pray and work hard so that the virus doesn’t get in. We are certainly doing what’s in our power and I remain confident we can do this despite the odds involved with a virus that can be spread by a perfectly healthy-looking person.

When I first started writing this it didn’t feel right comparing us to being on the front lines of this battle. So many doctors and nurses in our hospitals are surrounded by actual cases every single day putting themselves at great risk. But our situation isn’t far from it.

We are like the city under siege trying to keep the enemy out every minute of every hour of every day, knowing any slip up in protocol could allow the virus in. And there isn’t an end to this until we have a treatment or a vaccine.

Because our community is made up of the most vulnerable people on the planet, we don’t have the luxury of “letting up.” This new normal doesn’t change until we know they can be kept safe. That’s our job as caregivers. It’s why we were drawn to this profession in the first place. And we are some of the most dedicated people you will ever meet. There are a lot of stories about how nursing homes aren’t up to the task. But I can tell you that the nursing homes I know, are full of heroes. That’s a story worth telling too.

I would like to add a special thanks to the various agencies that have provided donations and their time through this crisis especially the support of the Butler County and Hamilton County Emergency Management Services.

Aaron Steckman is an infection preventionist at The Knolls of Oxford, in Oxford, and Maple Knoll Village, in Springdale.