One year later: Americare looks back at COVID lessons
On March 31, the last two Americare communities conducted the final of their three COVID-19 vaccine clinics. With these clinics, each community has now administered vaccines to every resident and team member interested. In fact, 91% of residents and 40% of employees have now received the vaccine protection. The number of employees agreeing to the vaccine continues to climb week to week as well. This milestone comes almost a year from the date – March 13, 2020 – when the potential pandemic became evident and the company started it COVID protocols across all of its communities in Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas, Illinois and Mississippi.
The last year has been a year of learning, investment, compassion and unprecedented communication. We are a stronger company today, a better company today, than we were when all of this began. I am thankful for our people and that we as a company had the resources and financial strength to not just withstand this pandemic, but to make our services better with each lesson learned.
In late February 2020, I was attending a senior living management conference that featured a panel discussion with epidemiologists that caught my full attention. COVID-19 was not yet a universally recognized word, yet the discussion spurred us to action, beginning with daily Americare management meetings to make sure everyone was getting as much information as possible.
In just a couple weeks on March 13, 2020, based on all information available, Americare began doing everything it could to lessen the chance of the virus entering any community and protect residents and employees as much as possible. All visitors were restricted from entering facilities and all group activities were suspended. Of course, nothing could prevent the pandemic from touching Americare like it touched every aspect of life during 2020. But, it is what Americare did when COVID-19 stuck that really differentiated us.
We began this with an established culture that included trust in each other to make good decisions, family taking care of family and of using our financial strength to invest in care and protection. The two things that made the most difference in my mind are our total dedication to communicating with openness with everyone, and our decision to make financial investments where and when they were needed.
The Americare communication protocols established included total transparency and multichannel communication with employees, residents, families, health communities and the media. The foundation for each outreach were scripts prepared for all administrators that focused on “what is happening” at the community and “what we are doing.”
No one ever had to “wing it,” no one was ever left to feel alone, we wanted no one to ever feel like they were missing information.
The effectiveness of financial investments made by Americare were best demonstrated when positive cases were identified in a community. When that happened, in many cases, Americare established a separate COVID-19 care wing within the facility where all residents who tested positive could be cared for. The hall was separated by a plastic barrier and had separate care equipment and was staffed by personnel who only worked on that unit. Droplet isolation protocols for COVID-19 positive residents were implemented, including wearing of full personal protective equipment (PPE) while in the resident’s room. PPE is defined as gown, gloves, N95 mask, level 1 mask and face shield. For these situations and in all communities, Americare invested in technology to assist in the monitoring of vital signs to maintain the highest levels of information on residents’ conditions at all times.
Americare also invested in local and corporate supplies of PPE and a tracking system that allowed supplies to be made readily available where needed when needed companywide.
I believe our investments of well over $1 million on technology and PPE meant the difference between adequate protection and treatment versus exemplary protection and treatment in our communities. Our investments also included another $1 million in “hero pay” which was extra pay for our teams working in the midst of COVID treatment and others providing vital roles at every level.
Yet, even with our resources and culture, there were still moments of sadness. To date since the pandemic began a total of 1,199 residents tested positive for the virus, which is an infection rate of just under 11 percent. 1,031 residents recovered which is an 86 percent recovery rate, and due to the protocols put in place and carefully observed 9,775 residents were protected from contracting the virus.
Still our prayers go out to the families and friends of our residents who passed away due to complications after contracting the virus. Our residents become like family to us. We’ve put special programming in place to help our employees cope with their grief as well. Still, I believe our investments, communications, protocols and processes, especially the establishment of special care units, kept that number from being much higher.
What a year it has been. We know how hard this has been on everyone and that realization is what made #AmericareStrong our rallying cry. We have gotten better at many things, not just infectious disease control. We end these 12 months of COVID even more dedicated to our culture of caring, family values, uber transparency and communication, and always learning what we can do for each other from each other. And, perhaps most important, we are returning to ‘normal’ in every way and ready for family visits and new residents.
Clay Crosson, president and CEO for Americare senior living facilities, which has two locations in Sikeston, La Bonne Maison and The Arbors at WestRidge Place