By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Scalabrini Villa learned of the first COVID-19 case among its residents just over a month ago, on March 25. Since then, the Quidnessett nursing home and rehab facility has seen a total of 13 coronavirus-related deaths; 47 residents have tested positive for the virus.
“We are heartbroken,” says Joy Ryan, Scalabrini’s administrator. “Each one of these statistics represents a family member who is loved and cherished, both here and in the community. It is our mission to provide professional, compassionate care and we have applied every resource available to keep our residents and staff safe. This disease is merciless in the way that it attacks our frailest elders and how rapidly it transmits in a group setting.”
Rhode Island has seen 231 deaths because of COVID-19, 70 percent of those have taken place in congregate living facilities – mainly nursing homes but also assisted living facilities and group homes for people with intellectual disabilities.
Scalabrini stopped allowing visitors and non-essential deliveries on March 12. It also stopped group settings, while ramping up overall cleaning and disinfecting. When the first resident tested positive, Scalabrini stopped accepting new admissions. On March 25, Scalabrini had 84 residents but several of them were there for short-term rehabilitation and they have since gone home. Well more than half of the residents have tested positive for coronavirus.
The state Dept. of Health is now bringing tests to hard hit facilities and testing everyone – residents and staff alike – to get a better handle on who has the virus, but that didn’t happen right away. Initially, testing was extremely limited, but it has greatly increased in recent weeks. Testing is important because a person can have the virus for several days before showing symptoms, making the challenge greater, especially when dealing with a vulnerable population. Making it harder, many nursing homes have staff that work at other nursing homes, widening the circle of potential spread.
Scalabrini’s Ryan said the state has been helpful, providing testing resources and the all-important PPE (personal protective equipment). She said Scalabrini would take advantage of the extra money offered by Gov. Gina Raimondo for lower paid workers at nursing homes and other congregate living facilities but that she had already been providing a hazard pay “differential” for the past three weeks. “They have earned it,” she said of the staff.
In general, Ryan said, families of residents have been “awesome,” including sending in food for the staff. She added, “Understandably, they are nervous and concerned for their loved ones but they have also been supportive of our staff.”
For the residents, she said, some are unaware, because of their cognitive abilities. “But others, they miss their familiar routines and the company of friends and family – something we all miss,” Ryan said.
As for the staff, the ones caring for residents day and night, they have found strength in each other.
“We are all focused on taking every precaution to keep residents safe,” Ryan said. “It has been teambuilding at its best. We are pitching in where we are needed. However, we are working extra shifts and it’s physically and mentally exhausting work,” she said. “Our residents are like family members. We will continue to pray each day that we have turned a corner.”
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