Dear valuable family members,
Ben and I practiced geriatric care for 34 years, including the last 13 as the co-owners of Dodge Park and The Oasis at Dodge Park in Worcester MA. To care for the most vulnerable members of society, especially those diagnosed with memory impairment and dementia, we must be vigilant to prevent neglect and demonstrate self-inspection and constant process improvement. Many in the media, government and other organizations have taken a simplistic view about the high mortality that has occurred. While some of this has been fair and fact-based, too much has been sensationalized reports of stacked bodies, neglectful caregivers and abandoned families.
This is not what I have witnessed during the past 8 weeks or over my career. Nursing home and Rest Home workers are among the most-dedicated caregivers and should be recognized as such. In the United States, there are about 1.5 million people who live in 15,600 skilled nursing and rest home facilities. Over the last several decades, hospitals have been incentivized to discharge patients "sicker and quicker". The frailest of these patients have been discharged to skilled nursing facilities to recuperate and receive rehabilitative services, and then in many cases transition to long terms care in rest homes . Because our residents are so vulnerable is why nursing homes and rest home are one of the most regulated and monitored sectors of health care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an enormous challenge to our health care system. It should come as no surprise that the corona virus has infiltrated nursing homes where large numbers of chronically ill individuals live in proximity. Residents almost universally require assistance with dressing, toileting and feeding, and are dependent on staff. Consequently, staff and residents interact closely throughout the day. With a highly contagious virus, the environment and patients' physical needs make transmission likely even with strict adherence to infection control standards. Add to this the reality that many patients and staff are completely asymptomatic during the virus' early phases and it is not difficult to understand why nursing homes have become an epicenter of this illness.
We've done our part to minimize this risk. So far, we are very lucky of not having any case in our facilities. Our hard work and extreme measure paid off. Early in the crisis, through guidance by state Department of Public Health, we restricted and then prevented visitation in an attempt to limit incidence. Staff were mandated to wear masks very early on and everyone entering the building were screened for symptoms, disinfect their shoes, wash their hands and use hand sanitizers. Residents showing symptoms were immediately tested and isolated. Group activities were eliminated, and all meals were provided in residents rooms. Infection-control procedures, including correct handwashing and proper use of personal protective equipment, were reviewed with staff and monitored. We enacted a daily full building sanitation and disinfection utilizing a state of the art electrostatic disinfected equipment. We started testing all our residents and employee and by Mid April had 100% of our residents and staff fully tested for COVID-19. So far all the collaborative efforts helped us to stay ahead of the game but this is a constant, costly and ongoing battle.
Our dedicated staff have performed heroically throughout this emergency without much public adulation. They demonstrated compassion, dignity and professionalism amid the scariest of time.
Caring for elderly residents in our communities is extremely gratifying work that we are privileged to do.