Nearly eight months into the pandemic we asked Lorie Dancy, Solvere Living’s Chief Wellness and Compliance Officer, how Solvere managed communities are faring, what changes she’s seen and her predictions for the future.
Q: It’s hard to ask this with a straight face, but how has this year been for you?
Lorie: Unreal, not like anything else I’ve ever experienced. When I first started hearing about the virus in early March, we thought, “ok, we don’t know much yet but let’s order some PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) right away.” Called our suppliers, it was no big deal. Within five days we were told the supplies we ordered were being diverted and we would not receive them. At that point, it became a sprint of trying to procure PPE as quickly as possible.”
Q: Solvere Living has communities in several different states. How has that been for you?
Lorie: Each state, and in some cases, the country, has its own protocols and guidelines, and they are constantly changing, so it’s a real challenge to stay on top of things. Our goal is to keep residents and team members safe, so we developed our own internal protocols for screening and testing, too. Initially, we were on the lookout for the three key symptoms: coughing, fever, shortness of breath. But over time we realized that there were more symptoms to watch for. We were learning right along with the rest of the world. I would call epidemiologists in New York City, for instance, and say, “we’re seeing diarrhea as a symptom, are you?” And they would share what they were seeing. It was especially gratifying to know we were all trying to figure this thing out together.
Q: How did Solvere Living rise to the challenge?
One of the first things we did was develop a Covid Rapid Response Team made up of Solvere Living corporate leadership. We set up a secure email so we could all share questions and concerns in real-time and keep everyone in the loop 24/7. Some of our communities are in Covid hot spots: Staten Island, New Jersey, Southeast Florida – so it was important to get out in front of it to protect our residents and team members in those hotspots. We screen every single resident daily, some twice a day, three times a day or even every four hours, depending on the resident and the community’s overall Covid status. Staff at the community level screen each resident and log that information on a secure site for us to review. If we see anything that might put a resident at risk, we do additional screening and take precautions to isolate the resident or team member. We also do contact tracing if we find a positive case. All the contact tracing is done in-house with our Covid Response Team, so we can keep a close watch.
Q: You read that families have been upset about not being able to visit their loved ones. How have Solvere communities kept in touch with families through this?
We made it a top priority to communicate early and often. We make website updates regularly and send letters to families, residents and team members whenever we update protocols. We use technology like CareMerge to communicate across multiple platforms. We’ve also held virtual family meetings as needed to allow them to ask questions directly. Our goal is to be as transparent as we possibly can to keep families abreast of the situation overall as well as specifically about their family member.
Q: Solvere Living operates several memory care communities. How has Covid impacted that population?
Lorie: Unfortunately, the memory care population has seen a greater impact because it’s harder to keep them separated. In the communities that were the hardest hit, the Valeo (memory care) neighborhoods saw a significant impact. We’ve done a lot of redirection with this population. If a resident tests positive, we assign a one-to-one caregiver who keeps that resident isolated and makes sure anything touched gets cleaned and disinfected right away. We’ve instituted virtual visits so that family members can see their loved on at least once a week for 15-30-minute visits. We’ve had window visits too and, depending on the state, some communities now allow indoor visits with social distancing practices.
Q: Do you feel Solvere Living has met the challenges differently or perhaps better than others?
Lorie: It all begins with empathy – you have to want to do the right thing. For Nurses Week we sent our nurses an old school nursing cap – it served to remind them of the Florence Nightingale pledge all nurses take and the commitment to do what’s right. Solvere’s President, Kristen Ward, comes from a place of empathy. It guides her thoughts and actions based on what’s right and necessary. Early on she knew intuitively that one of the most important things we could do besides keeping residents and team members safe was to connect and communicate with families. Of course, we must be fiscally responsible to owners, but she trusts her team to put the right programs in place to make sure our communities are as safe as can be and positioned to come out of this in the best way possible.
Q: What does your crystal ball tell you about the future?
Lorie: I see this being with us through summer 2021. Because states are opening unevenly, some slower, some faster, I think we will see a rise in cases before we get an approved vaccine. For us, that means continuing to screen daily, continuing to stockpile PPE, more clinical involvement, more mental health programs to keep depression at bay. Frankly, I don’t see us ever going back to the way it was, but I think we’ve been reminded of some important lessons along the way, such as the importance of transparency and communication, the fragility of life and even more basically, the need to wash our hands frequently.