Pandemic Story: Working with Elders by Kelly White, Morning Star Care Center, Fort Washakie, WY

I wanted to share a little about what my job had been like since March when we had to implement a lock down on our building. At the time we had 33 Elders who were able to move about the building with just restrictions in place for outside visitors. At this time we had the ability to gather all the Elders and keep them informed about the virus. A few days later it was a CDC recommendation for no communal living, so all Elders were asked to stay in their rooms.

At this point I typed up the new recommendations and had conversations with all the Elders. I also had to contact all the families and notify them of the changes. We had to come up with a COVID-19 plan for our facility and implement changes with our staff. This is a 4” binder with lots of information. Our Director of Nursing and our Infection Preventionist Nurse worked tirelessly to implement all the recommended changes.

We had to classify our Elders by their health and look at the best placement in the buildings for them. We had to move most of the Elders to new rooms and with different roommates to ensure the safety of the Elders. We also had to make an area for isolation, building a barrier in one of our halls. We had to establish a “morgue” within our building just in case we had COVID get into our building. Our staff had to be split between our Healthy Hall and our Sick Hall.

During this time one of our Elders began actively dying just from age, this was expected. We had to move them to the isolation wing and implement a policy on families coming into the building for the end of life. This has been the hardest thing I have had to do in a job.We had to teach the family to dress in PPE and be very careful to protect our other Elders. Due to the scare only a few family members were allowed in to see their parents. The other family members could not come in to say goodbye to their parents. I was able to use my cell phone on speaker for the family to say goodbye through the window. Let me tell you this was the hardest thing I have ever done. These family members only could see their parents through a window, they couldn’t hold their hand, they couldn’t have the privacy of a last conversation.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to be able to support our Elder. We had to keep implementing these changes and writing new policies to keep the Elders safe. During this time the State Survey came to ensure we had implemented all the changes recommended. We didn’t have any findings and passed with flying colors. By this point the Elders are required to stay in their rooms, taking all meals in their rooms and missing the social interaction. I have done a depression rating on the Elders and most understand the need of the procedures.

All Elders have been given masks to wear and are asked to wear them when staff is in the room. This has been the hardest implementation of changes but for the most part they are all doing a great job. We had to cancel our Easter Celebration, Church Services, and many other social engagements since this has happened. The families have been wonderful to all of us, we have used skype, mail, phone calls, and video chats to allow the Elders interaction with their families. Some families are coming to see their Elder through the window, we have celebrated 90 with poster boards and smiles through the window.

Thankfully we have had no cases and we are doing everything to keep the Elders safe. We will all make it through this pandemic as we continue working together as a team, following CDC recommendations and being an active part of the Elders life. I never thought my job would cause so much pain and love at the same time. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve our Elders and be part of this team. I am emotionally and physically exhausted, my face and ears are tired of wearing a mask, and I have cried more on my way home than I have ever in the past.