On April 6, St. Therese of New Hope became one of the first long-term care facilities in Minnesota to have a positive COVID-19 case in our resident population. The following weeks were the most trying and devastating in our 52-year history as our dedicated staff worked as quickly as possible to protect more than 100 residents from the ravages of this disease. While many residents who contracted COVID-19 did recover, tragically, this unpredictable virus moved rapidly, and we did lose some of our residents.
Once at the front end of the COVID-19 outbreak curve, St. Therese is now leading on the back end of the curve. We are encouraged to see the infection and mortality rates of long-term care residents declining significantly across Minnesota. There have been zero new cases of COVID-19 at St. Therese since the end of May.
Recent studies and analysis by Harvard University, Brown University and the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care confirm that large scale, independent long-term care facilities with older populations, similar to St. Therese, are disproportionally more susceptible to a wide-scale COVID outbreak due to lack of private space and personal protection equipment and staffing resources. Their findings are in line with the challenges we faced in early April, with limited access to testing and supplies, and staffing and space restrictions.
This new research also affirms that the actions St. Therese took in April and May effectively stopped the spread of the coronavirus across our population.
First, we cohorted residents, creating a physical separation between those who had contracted the virus and those who had not. Thanks to the Minnesota National Guard, St. Therese was one of the first congregate care settings to start testing all residents and employees.
Our campus’ physical space created a significant barrier to quickly responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. Our current residential model of two residents to a room and four residents sharing a bathroom is not an effective set-up to keep seniors safe from COVID-19 or any other airborne infectious disease. Several years prior to COVID-19, we applied for a moratorium from the State of Minnesota to rebuild our care center in a way that would offer more individual rooms and private spaces for residents to be better protected in a pandemic or widespread health outbreak. Our initial request was not approved by the state but we will continue to seek this moratorium so that our campus, and other older, larger nursing and assisted living facilities across our state, can more effectively and safely protect the hundreds of senior Minnesotans entrusted in our care.
Our first COVID-19 case came right as our health care systems here and across the country were also facing their own shortage of personal protective equipment. We are grateful to the many volunteers who made masks around the clock and added sleeves to resident gowns for staff to use. We are currently building a 14-day stockpile of PPE for staff and residents.
Our staff has truly been an Army of Angels over the past three months. Early on, we established three different levels of essential workers and rotated through these levels as staff themselves became ill. It was all-hands-on deck for our staff and they were all-in to care for our residents. Assistant nurses, rehab nurses working as nursing assistants, and then social workers all trained and worked on the floors.
Now our attention turns to resuming normal activities as safely as possible. Our residents miss their families and loved ones, and the lack of regular visits and socializing can have a detrimental psychosocial effect. We are pleased that under the state’s new guidelines, we are able to welcome essential caregivers and visitors for longer appointment visits. With temperature screenings and PPE usage for visitors and residents, we are able to create a safe space that can allow family members and residents to enjoy each other’s company once again.
We know that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, but through planning and implementing the right protections and safety measures, we can help stop the spread and continue to provide professional, compassionate and loving care to keep our beloved senior Minnesotans safe.
Barbara Rode is the executive director of Saint Therese of New Hope.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)