There’s more than a little good news coming out of St. James Health and Rehabilitation Center outside Carrabelle.
First is the critically important one.
"We have no cases, we’re COVID-free," said Kristi Damron, a licensed clinical social worker at the facility. "We have had some tested, but no cases."
And then comes the icing on the health care cake, the sprinkles on this ice cream cone, a flurry of cards from the Philaco Woman’s Club created especially for the 75 or so residents, mostly seniors, one as senior as 95 years old, a demographic considered particularly susceptible to complications should they contract the virus.
"These are people from the community, and for most, this is their home," said Damron.
The facility also serves outpatients, people who need therapy from everything from hip replacement to knee injuries, but that isn’t happening these days.
Handling those patients was ended early in the process, as policies were put in place to make sure this vulnerable population would not be affected by the coronavirus.
"We’ve had so many policy changes, coming down from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and AHCA (The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration)," said Damron, noting that it’s meant daily briefings and meetings by the chief administrator, director of nursing and infection control nurse, often together
Residents are no longer able to gather, to play bingo, or take part in Bible study or do crafts, she said.
"If they come out of their rooms they have to wear masks," Damron said. "A suspect case gets shut down even further."
It’s meant a modification, not an elimination, of many activities, such as the creation of "doorway bingo," where the action takes place in the hallways, and greater use of the intercom system,
But as difficult as staying at home has been for the young and healthy, for the elderly, who often combat loneliness given their residence, sometimes far from family, it can be even more so.
"Everything that we’re experiencing they are experiencing just as much," said Damron.
There’s no visitors, but items can still be collected for residents, and after they’ve been sprayed they can be shared.
"They can’t come face-to-face but they can call and they can use any one of the space-time apps," saiad Damron. "The isolation they feel is probably the biggest component I can see."
If residents are in need of counseling, the facility has a telehealth option.
Plus there’s something no therapy can replace, basic lovingkindness from the community, and that’s where Philaco comes in, as one member, Sharon Sleeper, a retired registered nurse, helped coordinate an effort to show residents support during the pandemic
"Philaco was kind enough to drop off handwritten cards that we were able to deliver to residents, and also read them to the ones who aren’t able to read themselves," said Damron. "They were beautiful cards, some had drawings and some had handmade envelopes."
Some talked about their day, others shared tender feelings, all to stave off the sort of depression that can sow confusion or increase anxiety behaviors.
"We’re trying to keep them entertained and in contact and keep a good schedule," Damron said, "When everything is a little different that’s been shown to help."
In addition, the children of staffers in the revenue cycle department in the Florida office of Senior Dental Care, the facility’s dental provider, "wanted to put smiles back on the faces of those who are especially down," and so the kids sent the residents their own original paintings.
"At a time when we cannot be physically present, please know that we are there with you in spirit," wrote one staffer from Senior Dental.
In addition, several individuals created handmade masks and donated them to the facility. Damron said they have included Deborah Huckeba, Sheila Lewis, Anna Marcus, Irene Burroughs, Deanna Collins, Clyde Lewis, Kianga Jinaki, Lana Belton and Ann Allshouse.
"We can still do some social distancing in common areas but we all have to wear masks and be six feet apart," she said.
Despite all this upheaval, St. James in continuing to accept admissions, if the need should arise within the community.
"This has been a challenging time in long-term care," Damron said. "So these small acts of kindness were appreciated and we hope the community will be encouraged to continue to support us as we make our way through uncharted territory, together."