With the COVID-19 pandemic gaining momentum in early 2020, Tara D’Andrea ’97 and her team recognized the potential danger. As the Licensed Nursing Home Administrator of Holden Rehabilitation in Holden, Mass., she knew her facility’s more than 120 residents were particularly vulnerable to this mysterious, highly contagious virus, so the facility’s established Emergency Preparedness Plan was quickly activated and put into place.
That plan involved securing scarce personal protective equipment, restricting visitors, and screening employees as they came to work each day. Members of the town’s volunteer Community Emergency Response Team were deployed to help with screenings, which involved temperature checks and a questionnaire about potential exposure or symptoms. And then there was testing—lots of testing.
The efforts allowed the facility to remain COVID-19 free for eight weeks once the pandemic arrived in the area, an impressive feat given that a recent study reported that long-term care facilities account for 63 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities in Massachusetts.
“I am grateful to work alongside an incredible team of employees,” says D’Andrea. “We have over 200 essential employees that are critical to the 24/7 operations of our facility and care of our residents,” including nurses, certified nursing assistants, resident life, dietary, housekeeping, laundry, maintenance, nursing administration, social services, administrative staff, physicians, medical directors, nurse practitioners, and physical, occupational, speech, and respiratory therapists. “It’s a scary situation, both personally and professionally, and they continue to give the same loving and compassionate care that they’ve always given and more.”
Although the facility has since seen some infections—including, sadly, the loss of four beloved residents—D’Andrea sees the effort as a long-term battle against an unseen, often scary enemy.
“Before we had any infections, we were awaiting the unknown. We knew, given the unpredictability of the virus, and watching what was happening around the country, that we would probably see some cases, and were well prepared to battle whatever came our way,” she says. “Working closely with our medical directors and nurse practitioner, we started conducting ongoing surveillance testing of both residents and staff, early in March.”
The team turned a conference room into a command center and established daily Emergency Task Force meetings to review plans and ever-changing Centers for Disease Control and Department of Public Health guidelines.
“We felt like we were constantly waiting for results, but this was part of our strategic plan to identify any possible asymptomatic or symptomatic cases, so we could then care for them in the best possible manner,” D’Andrea says. “Once we had our first case, we implemented further phases of our Emergency Preparedness Plan to strategically manage the situation. The team at Holden jumped into action without question. Our motto is ‘We do whatever it takes’ to keep people as safe and healthy as possible.”
Education is ongoing as staff responds to changes in public health guidance and real-life experiences.
“It’s scary because everything is opening up again. We try our best to keep our residents and staff as safe as possible. The virus itself is so unpredictable. You could test negative on Monday and positive on Wednesday,” she says. “And the symptoms, if even present at all, aren’t necessarily the ones being advertised, which is also tricky. We have learned quite a bit about this virus from seeing if first hand.”
Although the early restrictions on visitors was necessary, it was difficult for residents and their families and even staff “as we all enjoy seeing our many visitors on a daily basis” she says. “Employees have been working hard to keep the connection going in creative ways, including window visits, Facetime and Skype visits and cell phone videos.”
The facility has recently started well-orchestrated outdoor visits that adhere to strict infection control policies and procedures.
“Now that we have been through some cases, and the process of ongoing surveillance testing and contact tracing, I am confident we have a strong plan in place, based on what we have implemented and learned. We continue to do the surveillance testing. That’s the only thing that will help keep people safe. We have to acknowledge this is the new normal until there’s a vaccine,” she says.
“Holden Rehabilitation is definitely a unique facility. We have a vibrant community that provides long-term care, short-term rehabilitation and also chronic ventilator/high acuity respiratory care on our 41- bed Wachusett Respiratory Care Unit,” she adds.
D’Andrea credits her Worcester State psychology degree with teaching her different strategies on relating to residents and their families, as well as staff in many circumstances. Effective and transparent communication during such an unprecedented time is critical. She also says the athletic program fostered the importance of teamwork.
“This job is really all about teamwork. You all go through different struggles and have different perspectives. We overcome challenges and celebrate successes as a team, which collectively makes the team stronger,” says D’Andrea, who was a standout field hockey player and was elected to the Worcester State Athletics Hall of Fame. “We’ve experienced a rollercoaster of emotions because no two days are the same. I’m so grateful for the team that comes to work everyday to provide that loving care for our residents, while putting some of their own worries and fears aside.”
Holden Rehabilitation is part of Oriol Health Care, which also owns Oakdale Rehabilitation in West Boylston. D’Andrea credits Bob and David Oriol, owners of Oriol Health, for being very involved in efforts to keep everyone safe.
“We talk every day to strategize and plan,” she says. “This is an organization that takes care of its people. The Oriol Health Care vision is to focus on fulfilling the needs of the people who entrust their care to us; to be innovative and forethinking in meeting the changing needs of the community; to empower each other to achieve pride in our work. This is exactly the culture I am proud to be a part of.”
Staying vigilant over the long term will be essential, but D’Andrea says her team is ready.
“We have a group of warriors fighting this COVID-19 battle every day. I definitely have a team of soldiers with boots on the ground who will do anything. They came together in such a time of need to give their all to help one other and our residents. It has been an incredible thing, and one I am humbled to be a part of. I am grateful for the 200+ members of ‘Team Holden,’ for the resiliency they display along with the dedication to the care, safety, and well-being of those in our care,” she says.
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