Jones-Harrison infection preventionist: ‘We started allowing essential caregivers’

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 

This last Monday, we started allowing essential caregivers into Jones-Harrison’s assisted living wing. 

There has been some fear of opening up and allowing the virus to come walking in our doors because, with asymptomatic transfer, we can’t control what’s going on outside — we can only control what’s happening inside. 

But we did the work and we polled our families and asked how they feel about people coming in and possibly exposing our community to the virus. 

The results were pretty even, pretty 50-50. 

Half said: “No — we’re OK with video chats and outdoor visits. But I want my parent to be as safe as possible.” 

And the other half said: “Yes — we can’t keep it shut down. Our seniors are not thriving in this environment, and what is life when you can’t do the things you want to do? They shouldn’t be living their end stages of life this way.”

We have to keep that balance, so we’ve introduced essential caregivers just to assisted living tenants for now. Those tenants are under the same roof, but they’re completely walled off from the skilled nursing center and we don’t share staff or airspace.

Caregivers come for up to three hours one day a week. They can hang out with them in the courtyard, they can bring in food. They can do laundry or bring in drugs from the pharmacy or mouthwash and shaving cream. They’re filling up bird feeders and birdbaths. And this is making our tenants happy. 

We do education for essential caregivers. There’s a strong message that if they’re not in compliance, we will tell them to readjust. And if they are still not in compliance with the personal protective equipment, we have the right to ask them to leave. 

We currently have zero active cases, which hasn’t happened since the beginning of April. On Wednesday morning we celebrated the transfer of the last patient off the COVID floor. We got balloons, we played a song and we got very emotional. To see all of the empty rooms in the COVID unit and to shut those doors — it was a moment. 

Do I kid myself that we won’t have more COVID cases? Absolutely not, we will. That COVID unit is a ghost town right now, but we will have to open it up from time to time. 

We’re changing how we do outdoor visitation. Families can be on one side of a long table and residents on the other side — with no plexiglass barrier in between to help facilitate closeness. We’ll be able to have four families in the courtyard at once, so a family can stay a half hour instead of 15 minutes. 

We’re also reopening admissions of non-COVID patients to other units of Jones-Harrison. In the middle of the outbreak, we were discovering multiple new cases — and we were short-staffed — and it wasn’t ethical to admit new patients. So we ended admissions until we could contain it. 

About three weeks ago, we opened back up admissions to the third-floor rehab unit, and last week we were full. Hospital admissions are put on a COVID quarantine and we have to wear all of our PPE when we enter their rooms. 

Now we’re accepting residents to our dementia and long-term-care units. It’s because there’s a need. The hospitals are filling up, and we have to do our part in helping them empty out and open up more beds for acutely sick patients. Nobody from outside coming into our community has yet to test positive for COVID, which means the hospitals are doing really well at protecting their patients. 

The role of Libby Lindberg, our director of nursing, has been pivotal. Without her, we would not be at the place we are today. She had a strong voice and was not afraid to say, “No, that’s not what we’re going to do.” 

For people who were actively dying, the guidance was that one or two family members could make “compassionate visits” to their loved ones while wearing full PPE and staying socially distanced. 

But if your mom is very, very sick, you want to get in there. In the presence of your mother or father hurting, you don’t care — you just want to crawl into bed with them. 

So it’s very hard to be the person to step in and say, “I’m sorry, but that can’t happen.” Yet at the time, hospitals were not allowing people to go into the ICUs because the virus was too unknown and too deadly. 

Libby was very confident and very firm and very strong and had the ability to say those words where other people did not want to say those words. 

People keep pushing boundaries, but she was very firm in reading the guidance, leaning in and saying her piece in meetings and in real time. She was the rock who kept us all stable in making those hard, unpopular decisions.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

 You can read all of the stories here.