For the first time since March of last year, the number of COVID-19 positive residents and clients at Good Samaritan Society’s locations in 24 states is in the single digits. If you include staff members, the numbers are still fewer than 20.
“At the end of 2020, there were some days where our combined numbers between staff and residents and clients was nearly 1,000 positive cases,” says Rochelle Rindels, Society vice president of nursing and clinical services. “So to be where we’re at today, to be in single digits, is really amazing.”
High resident vaccination rates
Rochelle says residents lining up to get the COVID-19 vaccine is part of the reason for the good news.
“We’ve seen great resident adoption on the vaccine. The first dose, we’ve seen over 80% of our residents become vaccinated,” Rochelle says.
When it comes to residents getting both doses, she says, “We’ve seen over 70% vaccination rates.”
That number will rise as more clinics take place. Rochelle says the vaccine is proving to be highly effective. Wearing masks, social distancing and hand hygiene are other factors driving the numbers down.
“With the safety protocols that we have had in place and we’re continuing to keep in place and our adoption rate of vaccination among residents and staff, we’re really one of the safest places to be with regards to COVID,” Rochelle says.
Impact on visitation
So, how does this positive news affect visitor policies at the Society’s nursing homes?
Vice President of Operations Nate Schema says visitation restrictions come from state departments of health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Nate points to the COVID-19 positivity rate in each county as the key to how visitation works.
“If a location is under 10% (positive), we should be allowing indoor and outdoor visits,” Nate says.
The 10% county positivity rate is the threshold by which indoor visitation is allowed by the CDC and CMS.
“If we’re above 10%, we’re in many ways locked down to visitation, or visitation is only allowed outside or through compassionate care visits. If it’s under 10%, we need to be doing indoor and outdoor visits, and I would expect all of our Good Samaritan locations are encouraging, pushing and inviting family members and friends in across the organization,” Nate says.
Compassionate care visits
One type of visit that can take place at any time, in any state, is a compassionate care visit. Locations and families are using it for end-of-life situations, but it's more flexible than that.
“It also can be anything psychosocial. It can be something related to someone’s physical decline. Maybe they are really struggling with or grieving something that has nothing to do with what’s happening to them. Maybe they have a friend that just passed away out in the community. A compassionate care visit really can be loosely interpreted and defined,” Nate says.
He says it’s a way people can see friends or family at Good Samaritan Society skilled nursing facilities frequently. “I would really encourage you all to connect with your local leadership and see about getting one of those scheduled for you and your loved ones,” Nate says.
Hope for reopening
As for a complete reopening of Society locations, Nate says he doesn’t anticipate major changes anytime soon.
“Right now, with the COVID variants that are being discovered all over the nation and with the fluctuating activity depending on the county or location you live in, we don’t expect things to change,” Nate says.
However, there is hope for change.
“We need everybody to be vaccinated. We’ve seen our rates drop dramatically here over the last six to eight weeks, and we’re going to continue to see that drop. But we need everybody to do their part and be vaccinated,” Nate says.
Those efforts will have an impact on visitation in the future.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, resident safety has been our top priority. Admittedly, at the very beginning, we were conservative. We continue to be very conservative in our approach. Just ensuring that we do everything we can to keep our people safe. That said, the visitor restrictions have been the hardest part,” Nate says.
Step by step, the Society is finding new ways to get residents back with their families and friends.
“Things are changing and for now, we’re pretty optimistic. Visitors are starting to return. Our families are coming back and there’s nothing better than watching those reunions and watching people come back and celebrate those milestones,” Nate says.