Jones-Harrison president: ‘This is a continually evolving pandemic and we’re all on the same learning curve”

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 edited for length and clarity.

Annette Greely, Jones-Harrison president

I’m holding up, but we feel stressed. [As of May 5, 18 Jones-Harrison residents had tested positive for COVID-19 and nine of those residents had died.]

We have great staff, and they’re picking up as much as they can, but we have nine staff members who are out positive and we have staff who are out on leave related to sick family members with COVID. The staff who’ve tested positive have to stay out 14 days. Some staff don’t want to work with COVID positive residents; that’s true across the industry. 

The whole industry is always tight on staffing, especially when the economy’s good. We’re not the first employer of choice (though we should be; it’s a great career). We’re making it, but we don’t have any cushion.

It’s all hands on deck. We’ve got lots of people staying and picking up extra shifts and volunteering to work with COVID patients. Everybody is helping with spraying disinfectant on hand rails and serving food. The physical therapy department can’t do as much as they used to, so they are helping serve meals, and if someone needs help with eating, they’ll sit and help with that. 

When we’re moving a positive resident to the COVID area, everybody goes up and helps with that move, bringing their clothes and personal belongings. We all wear personal protective equipment [PPE] and take precautions. 

We’re staffing the COVID unit with three shifts; each shift includes one nurse and two aides. Every time they go in and out, they have to put all their PPE on and then take it off. 

I just ordered 1,000 face shields. We only have a couple hundred staff and you can disinfect and reuse them. But that’s the only amount they’d let me order, so if anyone needs one, let me know!   

We have about 60 memory care patients in a secure unit. For someone with memory loss or Alzheimer’s, their ability to process information is challenged. When they come out of their rooms, we try to get them to put a mask on, but then they take them off and you’ve got to remind them to put their mask back on. And they’re tactile, too. They like to touch things. That’s why we’re constantly spraying with disinfectant and wiping stuff down. We’re having them eat in their rooms if they can, but some we need to spread out and have staff help. Everything we’re doing is kind of a challenge right now; we’re doing the best we can.  

We’ve had a few families take their loved ones out of the facility in the beginning, and we supported them and walked them through the decision. Families have been emailing me questions, and we’re glad that they do. I might not have all the answers because even the government doesn’t have all the answers. 

I just read an article that said there’s a new mutant coronavirus strain more contagious than the original version that came here. This is a continually evolving pandemic, and we’re all on the same learning curve. This isn’t like working with influenza or norovirus or things we’ve had many, many years of knowing how to deal with. We get inundated with so much information. It’s kind of like one day milk’s good for you and the next day milk’s not.

It makes me sad to see the number of cases and deaths keep rising. It’s very hard. … But people need to understand the nature of the health conditions of the people we work with. A few years ago I was at a facility in the suburbs and I had 10 people pass away in a month, and there was no COVID. Most people who have passed at Jones-Harrison in recent weeks are COVID positive, but so many have pre-existing conditions that it is hard to say if that’s the cause of each death. No families have chosen yet to send [a sick resident] to the hospital. 

The one thing that’s been so awesome is that anytime we put out a call for donations — crossword puzzles or shirts or whatever — people have just risen to the occasion. They’ve sewn masks for us. They’ve ordered pizza. It means so much to make the staff feel supported. 

It’s heartwarming because we’re all a family. We had someone pass away over the weekend, and we had a nurse help them FaceTime with their family before they passed. All of us have the same goal: to take the best care of our residents that we can.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

 You can read all of the stories here.