On a normal day, Hartwell Health and Rehab would welcome visitors — family members coming to see their loved ones who are there for short-term rehab or long-term care.
Like many nursing home and elder care facilities, patients and residents there look forward to those visitors and the interaction and relationships that keeps them feeling their best.
But as one glance at a newspaper will prove, these are not normal times.
Staff at facilities like Hartwell Health are therefore having to adapt to keep both their residents and staff in good spirits in an unprecedented time of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during a pandemic.
“Our activities department is doing a tremendous job keeping them as involved as possible,” said Hartwell Health’s administrator Danny Lord.
Visitation has been suspended during the pandemic as a safety measure to keep potentially infected people out of a building where people of the most susceptible ages live. People who are considered senior citizens and those who have underlying health issues have been hit hardest by the novel coronavirus, making up a large portion of the deaths reported internationally from the disease.
That fact is not lost on Lord and his staff. He said staff must go through a rigorous screening process everyday to come to work and are taking precautions like constantly cleaning and sterilizing the building and wearing protective gear where necessary.
Those changes do not mean residents there must go completely without seeing their family. Lord said the staff has come up with fun and creative ways to keep the residents’ spirits up and to still connect them with their families.
Families who do want to visit a loved one there just have to call and set up a time. They then will meet their family member at an exterior door or window and talk to them on a cellphone provided to the residents by staff. Lord said the idea has worked well and has been well received by residents and visitors alike. He said online visitations using online programs like Zoom have also helped to keep residents happy.
The residential care facility has also been on the receiving end of multiple kind acts by people in the community.
“It’s been overwhelming, really,” Lord said.
Quilters from the Hart, a local group of dedicated quilters, have made and donated dozens of masks to help staff and residents alike prevent spreading or contracting COVID-19.
A local teacher, Kristen Zemaitis, came to the facility and wrote uplifting words of encouragement and love on every window in an effort to remind residents the community is thinking of them as they are forced to adapt to the impacts of social distancing.
The staff has also gone out of its way to make residents as comfortable and encouraged as possible.
“We’ve got a lot of good people out there,” Lord said.
But the virus response can be challenging, so Lord said he and his administrative staff are constantly conveying information and guidance from places like the Centers for Disease Control as soon as it comes in. He said the goal is to keep everyone informed and up to date.
“Not just on what we’re doing, but why we’re doing it,” Lord said.
“We have a very dedicated staff here.”
Like other nursing homes around Georgia, Lord said the National Guard will be there on April 16 through an initiative by Gov. Brian Kemp to thoroughly clean, disinfect and prepare the facility to make it through the pandemic as healthily as possible.