Jones-Harrison infection preventionist: ‘It is starting to get closer’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Barb Joyce, infection preventionist, Jones-Harrison senior living 

It appears it is starting to get closer.

Twelve senior care facilities in the state of Minnesota are now experiencing some level of COVID. One of our concerns is that some of our caregivers work in multiple facilities. Our biggest priority is to stop the virus from coming in. If it’s in other facilities, they may be exposed, become a carrier and bring it into Jones-Harrison. The Department of Health is now stating that there is evidence there are asymptomatic carriers. 

We hear rumors about which facilities have been affected [but the Minnesota Department of Health cannot disclose]. We have taken to calling the other facilities and, without violating HIPAA, we’re trying to gather information on the validity of these rumors. We’ve screened all our employees and know the other places that they work. But it’s not public knowledge to know the places where the virus is in. So we’re only hearing word-of-mouth from employees. 

We’d like to prevent shared workers from coming back from exposed facilities for a certain length of time. If our residents are going to get sick, it won’t be from the community; it will be from our caregivers. 

Luckily, we have not had any respiratory trends since we started this process. There’s been no influenza. Social distancing, I believe, has prevented the passing of respiratory germs from person to person. 

Personal protective equipment is still on lockdown, so most facilities are going to burn through it right away if we get patients with any type of respiratory distress. I still have some N95 masks that I kept from the H1N1 threat [in 2009]. If we’re going to be doing respiratory status care here in our facility, we really do need an N95. 

We’re going to create a respiratory team. They will be going in and giving a nebulizer with the N95, and then we’ll be protecting and reusing that equipment as much as we can. 

Our maintenance department made us some full-face shields out of plastic sheets and double-sided velcro. We can put them around our heads, so if we’re in a room and a patient coughs or sneezes, it will hit the mask and not our face or goggles. It’s another level of protection you’ll see at the hospital level but not normally in long-term care. We couldn’t get any in our facility, so we decided to make our own. We’re not wearing them yet.

We’re starting to hear different tones of voices on our conference calls. Some of the staff are getting concerned. If I let my guard down, I will break down, so I can’t let my guard down. We have to continue to push toward the positive and toward getting the equipment we need. We’re skilled workers, but we need the protection. The threat is real to the staff and to their family members.

We’re happy the governor made the decision he did [ordering Minnesotans to stay home]. We are working the plan and coming up with creative solutions. I’m happy to be in this facility instead of a facility that’s not going to give me what I need. I feel supported. 

Jones-Harrison has about 150 people in skilled nursing — nursing assistants, trained medication aides, LPNs and RNs — and maybe another 100 office workers and ancillary staff, including social workers, therapists and a wellness group. With the dining service members, the staff totals about 300. The residents are lucky to have this particular set of health care workers.