As the Trib continues to celebrate those who share concern for the health and wellbeing of others in our pandemic crisis, let’s gratefully acknowledge the resolve, steadfastness and foresight of administrators and staffers working in local nursing homes and long-term care facilities, generally toiling without the applause showered on other health-care professionals. These individuals have not only prevented the massive outbreak of disease and death that so often skews COVID-19 statistics elsewhere but have amazingly managed to prevent a single case of COVID-19 in any of our 28 local long-term care facilities.
County Judge Scott Felton clearly recognizes this as a pandemic miracle, given that nursing homes often prove “the tinderbox” in many communities, yielding disastrous and deadly consequences when precautions aren’t promptly embraced. During a press briefing last week, Dr. Jackson Griggs, spokesman for the local medical community, noted recent reports indicating that some 40 percent of deaths in Texas have involved nursing homes and assisted-living centers. He also noted that in February — well before many state and national leaders recognized the crisis looming — local health officials smartly reached out to long-term care facilities about the pandemic potential.
“Where there were personal protection equipment and hand-sanitizer needs, the [McLennan County] Emergency Operations Center provided these to long-term care facilities,” Dr. Griggs said, responding to a question from a Trib editorial board member. “And our long-term care facilities deserve strong commendation for their outstanding conscientiousness. Again, a little more than a week before the disaster declaration and shelter-in-place [orders], skilled nursing and long-term care facilities in our community had implemented restricted-access policies. To preempt incidents in our community, they began taking protective measures and have continued to be fastidious in their care, hand-washing and PPE in protecting residents.”
McGregor native and former teacher Leila Jenkins, 82, of Providence Village’s independent living wing, offered a more intimate picture to an editorial board member about safeguards: “All of these stories about the virus, they always talk about the first responders and the people who work at the hospitals being our heroes, but the people who work here at our nursing homes are heroes just as much as the others. They’re working so hard to protect those of us who live in these nursing facilities. Our people at Ascension/Providence have worn these masks, they have stopped the activities that would put us in close communication with each other. Even in the dining room, they are bringing all our meals to our rooms now to protect us during this time of concern about this virus.”
Two further glimpses of life at such facilities, courtesy of Leila: “hall-chair bingo” where residents spaced out along hallways in chairs play bingo as an official calls numbers as well as a system where residents’ family members make phone calls to them from the patio outside, all within easy view of loved ones through the dining room window — good enough to keep life rewarding, upbeat and safe in perilous and chaotic times.