As area nursing homes track virus, video chats reduce isolation for residents

3 min read530 views and 333 shares Posted March 18, 2020

No visitors are allowed, except in special circumstances, for the residents of the Spang Crest nursing home on Duke Street.

Residents for the most part are eating in their rooms. Their entertainment options are limited. Even the staff members who take care of them are questioned before being allowed to interact with their charges.

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“Our staff is handling things very well,” Daniel Deitzel, executive director of the Luthercare community, said Tuesday. “My management team is working extra long hours to make sure our residents are content, well fed and well taken care of.”

But, with fears related to the COVID-19 virus spreading faster than the disease itself, nursing homes such as Spang Crest are doing their best to limit exposure to the outside world.

“There are no visitors allowed in at this time, unless (their family members) are in an end-of-life situation,” Deitzel said.

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And, for the most part, he said, the residents and their family members are understanding of the need for the policy. In the meantime, he said, they are keeping in touch by telephone and virtual chats.

“We’re trying to keep them occupied with activities in their rooms,” Deitzel said. Also, he said, most residents are dining in their rooms to limit contact with others.

He stressed that, as a healthcare center, facilities such as Spang Crest are priority customers when it comes to necessary supplies.

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“At all times, we keep a 10-day supply of food and water here in the building,” he said. “And, because we have three or four different suppliers, we feel fairly confident we can keep up with the demand.”

They are well-stocked with toilet paper, he added. “Only alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a challenge.”

There are currently no suspected or diagnosed cases of the virus at any Luthercare locations, Deitzel said, but they are still following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to ensure their residents’ continued safety. Anyone who wants to deliver groceries or other items to a resident should contact staff to make arrangements for a safe transition.

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The situation is similar at Cedar Haven Healthcare Center, on South 5th Avenue.

In a message posted to the Cedar Haven website on March 12, executive director Steven J. Zablocki said the situation “continues to evolve” and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and local Department of Health officials are “monitoring the situation closely.”

As of March 12, Zablocki said, all nonessential visitation to the facility was restricted until further notice. To help allay concerns about Cedar Haven residents, the facility is making communication technology available so that families can schedule video calls and stay in touch while in-person visits are restricted.

“It is going very well and we have received extremely positive feedback about the program,” spokeswoman Meg Farrington said Monday in an email.

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Although there are as yet no reported cases of the coronavirus in Lebanon County, Zablocki said they also are working to coordinate telemedicine opportunities so residents can still access specialist care via video calls so they aren’t exposed unnecessarily to other people in the community.

People coming onto the site, including staff and vendors, are being asked to sign a form attesting that they have not traveled to restricted countries within the past 14 days, that they are not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 such as a fever, cough and sore throat, and that they have not had contact with someone who has the virus or is being tested for it, he said.

“Lastly, we are quarantining all new admissions to our facility for 14 days on a unit that has been dedicated to this purpose in order to further protect our current residents and Cedar Haven staff,” Farrington added.

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“We cannot say at this time how long this restriction will be in effect,” Zablocki said in the statement. “Our clinical team will continue to monitor this evolving situation and will consider the necessity of this policy moving forward as new information becomes available.”

The virus can “severely impact the elderly or those with chronic health conditions,” he noted. The policies have been enacted, he said, to protect “our vulnerable residents and our staff.”


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