Since February, residents at Catholic Eldercare’s senior living facility at 817 Main Street NE have gotten used to eating meals in their rooms and seeing staff dressed head-to-toe in protective garments, including face shields. Staff have become accustomed to speaking through a mask. It’s a situation no one likes, but it’s necessary.
On April 22, Catholic Eldercare sent out a media advisory from Greg Baumberger, president and CEO. “As of today, we have eight lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our Care Center. There are no active cases in our assisted living or independent living communities. However, it is with great sadness that we announced we have experienced 12 deaths since the virus was first detected. We grieve with the loved ones of those who have succumbed to this deadly virus and extend our prayers to them during this difficult time.”
In an April 23 phone interview with the Northeaster, Baumberger said, “In the state of Minnesota, there were 221 new cases since yesterday. We’re moving up on the curve. For Catholic Eldercare, the curve arrived sooner.”
As at other Minnesota nursing homes, Catholic Eldercare leaders saw the virus race through senior care facilities on the West Coast and began preparing for the worst. They monitored communications from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). As members of LeadingAge, a trade association of non-profit caregivers that deals with seniors, they took note of best practices and began implementing them as the situation evolved.
“Early on, we stopped visitors from coming onto the premises,” said Diane Lucas, Eldercare’s director of marketing communications. “The only people coming through our entrances are employees and our vendors.” She said the staff is in daily contact with MDH.
Baumberger added, “All deliveries go to the loading dock. They’re held there to minimize the spread of COVID.”
He said Eldercare has two nurses on staff who are specialists in infection control. Those two have trained other staff on how to prevent the disease from entering the building.
Lucas said one floor of the 174-bed building has become an “isolation unit” where residents with lab-positive COVID-19 tests are sequestered. “That’s the most recent thing we have done to help mitigate the spread,” she said.
Baumberger talked about the “complexity” of the coronavirus. “We’ve tested people who have been negative twice,” he said. “Then, on the third test, they’re positive.” He’s encouraged by the efforts of the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic to develop antibody testing.
But it’s not all gloom and frustration, even if residents must stay in their rooms.
The communications staff has enlisted “virtual volunteers” and found new ways to use the center’s in-house TV channel, producing travel shows. Enrichment and group activities are also broadcast. An extremely popular addition is the weekly “mail bag.”
Students from DeLaSalle High School have become pen pals with residents. The letters are isolated for three days to make sure they don’t transmit virus when they’re delivered to the residents. Once a week, the communications staff reads the best letters over the air.
Spiritual needs are also being addressed during the lockdown. “This is a difficult time for our residents,” acknowledged Baumberger. “Having six chaplains available is a real blessing. They are able to give one-to-one spiritual care.” Mass is broadcast throughout the facility daily at 11:30 a.m.
Staff have helped residents communicate with their families via FaceTime. And, of course, residents still receive care packages from their loved ones – after a three-day isolation.
Baumberger said he couldn’t say enough about Eldercare employees. “Early on, the Board of Directors recognized the personal sacrifice our people are making, and approved giving them hazard pay to reward them for being with us during this difficult time.”
Lucas celebrated the outpouring of support Catholic Eldercare has received from the Northeast community. “Companies have been dropping off 50 face shields at a time,” she said. “Tattersall donated 20 gallons of hand sanitizer formula. Cub donated N95 masks. Some families have bought lunches for the nurses. It’s really heart-stirring to see such support from the community. Small gifts like that give a lift to the health care providers as well as the residents.”
Editor’s note: Catholic Eldercare has also received donations from Sisyphus Industries, Bolger and Nordeast Makers. On April 24, they received a donation of 425 face shields from Corteva Agriscience, a Wilmington, Del.-based global agricultural company involved in seed development, crop production and digital services for farmers. Lucas said, “We’re grateful to Corteva Agriscience for their generous donation; we have enough supply for each staff member to have a dedicated shield—not just today, but also for the weeks ahead.”