According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s (MDH) most recent COVID-19 data, the majority of coronavirus-related deaths (more than 80 percent) is among those who are 70 years of age and older.

Naturally, that has those who care for the oldest portion of the state’s population very concerned.

That includes nursing homes as well as assisted living facilities where a significant portion of the population in that age demographic resides. With that in mind, many of those facilities have put measures in place to limit exposure in an effort to keep residents safe.

That is the case locally as well in sites, such as Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens and the River Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center both of Redwood Falls. 

Natalie Seehausen, Garnette Gardens senior executive director, and Becky Jenniges, administrator designee at River Valley Health and Rehab, recently addressed what has been implemented locally at the senior care facilities.

According to Seehausen, Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens began discussing COVID-19 more than two months ago and followed up its internal preparations as of March 6 with a letter to its residents and their families outlining the efforts based on guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Jenniges, who began working at the River Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center March 17, said the staff there had been working on an implementation plan for a couple of weeks prior to that.

At this time, neither of these local facilities have had any residents or staff with a confirmed case of COVID-19. In fact, according to the state’s most recent statistics published on the COVID-19 public dashboard, there have been three confirmed cases in Redwood County and five in Renville County.

According to Seehausen, preparations at Garnette Gardens escalated rapidly and have included restricting non-essential visitors as well as controlled access to the community. She added the staff completed the annual infection control training in early March and had recently reviewed its emergency preparedness plans.

“I felt we were well prepared to enact heightened measures, because we have a well-developed emergency plan in place,” explained Seehausen.

Jenniges added a number of additional precautions have been put in place at River Valley Health and Rehab as have extra infection control procedures.

According to Jenniges, “we currently have one door that staff enter. All staff are screened with several questions related to their health and their temperature is taken.”

If a person would have COVID-19 related symptoms or a fever, a nurse will assess and document it. Then the staff member is sent home to quarantine for 14 days, explained Jenniges, adding everyone who is in the building is wearing masks at all times.

According to Seehausen, “we have implemented several protocols recommended by our departments of health – staff wearing face masks as an extra measure of precaution against transmitting a respiratory disease, including COVID-19, restricting visitors, active screening of essential visitors and staff, social distancing - including no congregate meals or activities, increased disinfectant cleaning and other heightened infection control practices. These protocols are updated regularly.”

At first the changes implemented because of COVID-19 were frustrating and confusing for residents who had regular visitors, explained Jenniges.

“However after we developed several ways for them to still see them and visit with them, it has become a little easier to adapt,” added Jenniges. “We have several residents who watch the news on a regular basis and know why we need to do what we do.”

While the recommended protocols are inconvenient, everyone has adapted well to this “new normal,” Seehausen explained.

“Residents may be spending more time in their apartments, but we are trying to ensure that they are not lonely,” added Seehausen.

In an effort to better serve residents and help create a connection with the community, a “Drive by for Joy” event is being held May 8 in Redwood Falls, with cars lining up in the St. John Lutheran School parking lot at 3 p.m. and the parade starting at 3:30 p.m.

According to Seehausen, “as the name implies, we want to bring more joy to our residents. We are now in our ninth week of restricting access to the community, which means our residents have not left the community, except for medical appointments and have not been able to have family visits for that entire time. We were able to come together as senior living communities in Redwood Falls and pull this together in the best interest of our residents. It’s great to have partners in our community who work hand in hand.”

Everyone is invited to participate in the drive by event May 8. 

- Pixabay image courtesy of the Internet Public Domain