Program to educate employees, residents about COVID-19 virus pays off for Pioneer Place

Staff at Pioneer Place leveraged a focused education program on the COVID-19 virus as a key tool in an effort to keep the facility free of the malady. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

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VALE – A successful education program over the last month and a half blocked the COVID-19 virus from entering Pioneer Place Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation center.

The triumph – even as other long-term care centers across the U.S. stagger under repeated salvos of the malady – also required sacrifice from center residents, staff and family members, said Pioneer Place administrator Tom Hathaway.

Pioneer Place is a government entity that furnishes skilled nursing, assisted living and rehabilitation services. A five-member board of local residents oversee Pioneer Place. The facility is funded by a local taxing district.

The center initiated several key restrictions when the COVID-19 virus epidemic erupted, said Pioneer Place board member John Nalivka.

There are no non-essential visitors allowed in the center now and all employees and visitors must log in at the reception area and have their temperature taken. They must then answer a brief questionnaire about any potential exposure to COVID-19. Also, all employees and visitors must wear a surgical mask. Visitors are allowed to see their relatives through closed windows, or “window visits.”

“We educate our staff and remind them frequently to avoid going to places and doing things where there will be crowds of people and they might be exposed,” said Hathaway.

If staff members do go out into public, said Hathaway, they are urged to wear a facemask.

Educating families on the risks of COVID-19 is a big part of the center’s success, said Hathaway.

“We use the Facebook avenue for that. In terms of families, we have contact with them and thank them and apologize it is the way it is,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway said the danger of COVID-19 virus finding a way into the facility is real one.

“The nursing homes if like a cruise ship. Everyone is in tight quarters. It will only take one case getting into the building and it will probably take off and we will lose people,” he said.

The restrictions, he said, have not been easy for families or residents of the facility.

“It has been a challenge. Because it is boring when you can’t have guests. We try to promote the window visits, but, unfortunately, on multiple occasions when families come to do a window visit, the window gets slid open so they can hear each other,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway said the window visits – which are still allowed – are a good example of the education piece the center is committed to.

“We have to educate families so they say ‘Hey mom, don’t open the window,’” said Hathaway.

Nalivka said he believes the community should feel confident the staff at the care and rehabilitation center are focused on the health and safety of the residents. He also urged family members to be patient with the restrictions.

“We want to remind everyone that the challenge to maintain a COVID-19-free status has not gone away and the staff must, with the community’s help, remain diligent until we can be assured that COVID-19 is behind us,” he said.

Hathaway said the Pioneer Place staff understand the potential danger posed by the virus.

“Once it gets into a nursing home it is not good. This is the most vulnerable demographic and our staff respect that,” he said.

The COVID-19 virus threat isn’t confined to nursing home residents, said Hathaway.

“The issue on the assisted living side is they are people who are ambulatory and can walk around,” said Hathaway.

The new restrictions, he said, meant traditional events – such as picnics or fishing trips – for assisted living residents are gone.

The facility dining room is also under restriction, said Hathaway.

“We not doing community dining like we used to. The folks that insist on eating in the dining room, we had to put in more tables and separate people further apart. Instead of three or four at a table, we put one,” said Hathaway.

Basic precautionary efforts – such as deep cleaning and disinfecting the center – go on constantly.

He said so far, he believes the facility has an ample supply of personal protective equipment for staff. The key question, he said, is how long the PPE will last if the virus does invade the center.

“You can’t wear the same surgical mask and gloves when you go from room to room,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway said the PPE provision chain recently began to open up, after weeks of sparse supplies.

“Fortunately, the U.S. kicked the production of that stuff into high gear. Our suppliers are starting to contact us and fill orders when we place them,” said Hathaway.

Nalivka said he is pleased with the efforts by the Pioneer Place staff.

 “To have a nursing home without any COVID-19 is kind of a victory in this country at this point,” said Nalivka.

Pioneer Place employs between 70 to 80 employees. The skilled nursing and rehab side of the facility employs about 40 people. Pioneer Place’s annual payroll is about $2.3 million.


News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]