Regular COVID-19 drills and a new human resources campaign recognizing United Church Homes warriors has staff members repeating a simple phrase: “We got this.”
In March, the organization wanted to normalize the experience of having a COVID-19-positive resident. “The fear of this virus is with us 100 percent of the time, so we wanted to mentally prepare ourselves,” Terry Spitznagel, UCH’s chief growth officer and a licensed social worker, told LeadingAge, a national association representing multisite, nonprofit senior living organizations.
COVID-19 Drills Provide Insight
The drills involve a mock COVID-19-positive resident, caregivers, managers and staff in environmental and dining services. Staff scrutinize what steps to take if a resident were to test positive. With a new isolation area, a COVID-19 patient can be quarantined from other residents and staff members not providing care. They practice infection control protocols, in full PPE, using substitute supplies to preserve the real thing.
Chapel Hill Community Executive Director Debbie Durbin said each drill provides new insight into how to handle the case of a COVID-19-positive resident. In the first drill, staff members determined who would oversee staffing, clinical care, supplies and all other aspects of a COVID-19 response. They identified more than 20 items added to the isolation area, such as a basket to pass items through a door, Gatorade and walkie talkies. The team also removed fans from the isolation area, so no airborne infectious droplets could be further propelled through the air.
“We realized we weren’t in a drill situation — but a real situation,” she said. “We needed to identify how we’d protect all residents from this new threat. These drills were invaluable as mental exercises.”
In addition, Debbie said the fact that workers have the appropriate PPE to care for residents helps calm fears.
“Now they know what they’ll need to do during a situation with a COVID-19-positive resident. They are less likely to make mistakes and more confident about the work they’re doing,” Debbie added.
Senior Living Heroes
After implementing the drills multiple times each shift, staff reported their anxiety became easier to manage. At the same time, UCH launched a staff campaign to recognize senior living heroes. Dubbed United Church Homes warriors, employees are sharing photos in a private staff Facebook group that shows them flexing their muscles as they continue UCH’s mission.
Continuing with the UCH Warriors theme, the organization is providing extra support, from fun meals and snacks to themed days. Staff members have appreciated the outreach from families and their broader communities who have been providing meals and more. You can follow our team members flexing their muscles on UCH’s Facebook and Twitter or follow the hashtags #UCHFlex and #UCHWarriors.
“This has shifted the narrative,” Terry said. “Now it is, ‘We are warriors, and we are going to take this on. We are on the front lines — we’ll fight it. And we’ll beat it.’”
UCH was one of the first members of LeadingAge to implement the drills. LeadingAge highlighted UCH’s early adoption as a best practice for other senior living communities across the country.