As health care systems begin buckling under the strain of COVID-19, a skilled nursing facility is working furiously to ensure the deadly coronavirus does not find its way into one of the most vulnerable places in the country – nursing homes for senior citizens.
So far, Coastline Community Care Nursing Centre has succeeded at keeping the coronavirus at bay since the country confirmed its first case in March. Meanwhile, two in five American deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, according to tracking carried out by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization which focuses on health issues in the United States.
Amid a sharp rise in local infections and hospitalization, Coastline’s founder, Nurse Marsha McQueen and her team of healthcare professionals are working around the clock to ensure their residents – mostly older adults with underlying chronic medical conditions – never come into contact with the respiratory pathogen that has killed over 700,000 worldwide. Just a single case there could spark a massive tragedy.
“Once the illness comes in, it could take everyone in here out,” said Nurse McQueen. For 17 years, Ms. McQueen has offered care to senior citizens and residents for whom staying at home is no longer an option. In fact, Coastline’s license as a “Skilled Nursing Facility,” is believed to be the country’s first. Simply put, it means this facility is operated by licensed health professionals with the appropriate healthcare expertise to provide 24-hour on site, medical care.
Many of Coastline’s residents require long-term, high levels of quality skilled care. They might suffer from dementia and/or other varied illnesses, including chronic medical conditions. Overseeing the provision of dignified care in Coastline’s tranquil setting is medical director, Dr Glen Beneby. Assisting him are other physicians, a cadre of nurses, therapists and other staff members trained in delivering specialized healthcare. Prior to COVID-19’s arrival in The Bahamas, Coastline activated a strong infection prevention programme based upon global and local health experts’ recommendations.
“The first order of business was to educate our staff on how to avoid it entering the facility and actions they should take to protect themselves and our residents,” said Nurse McQueen. The facility has carried out massive cleaning and increased disinfections, particularly of high touch areas. Daily temperature checks are conducted, the readings logged, and the importance of handwashing emphasized. When caring for residents, employees wear the requisite Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – mask, gloves and gowns. The most drastic measure implemented. A zero-visitors policy.
“I think that’s what saved the facility from having any cases, that and avoiding, for the most part, any new admissions,” Nurse McQueen shared. “We decided we would put admissions on hold during this second wave. On the occasions when we took patients in, they had to have at least two negative COVID-19 tests. Persons can test negative now and later end up positive. So, we must have a minimum of two negative tests to even consider taking on a patient.”
The cost of preserving life is not cheap. “PPE got to the point that it became so scarce and then got so expensive when it became available again. That was one of the reasons the facility decided to limit visitations. We provided visitors with masks, gowns and overshoes [shoe coverings]. These things are very expensive.” A case of gown, for instance, costs $369 for a box of 100.
“When you have a mere 100 gowns per case and many patients, you cannot wear a single gown throughout an entire day, hence if a gown gets soiled, it must be changed immediately. And, each staff member needs a gown at the start of every shift,” said Ms McQueen. “My residents, however, are on a fixed income, so those charges aren’t passed on.” Some senior citizens require more than just a bed, meals, and generic, everyday level care. They need qualified staff to meet their needs. “Our goal is to bring long-term care to a level beyond what we have become accustomed to in the country. We want to remain on the cutting edge and every day we work to improve the care and services we provide,” said Nurse McQueen. “We want our residents to live out the remainder of their lives in comfort and with dignity.”