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Senior living facilities prepare for coronavirus

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | March 13, 2020 1:14 AM

Before the 2019 novel coronavirus reaches Idaho, local assisted living families are taking steps to protect some of the most vulnerable members of the community.

Staff at Orchard Ridge Senior Living in Coeur d’Alene are following recommendations released by the Centers for Disease Control, as well as Panhandle Health District.

“We rely on Panhandle to give us the most up-to-date developments,” said Executive Director Ann Johnson. “All of these things, I’ve run by them.”

On Thursday, Orchard Ridge suspended all visitation, including family, volunteers and all unnecessary medical personnel. Prior to that decision, staff was screening all visitors, which includes identifying signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection, identifying recent contact with someone who has or may have contracted the virus, and identifying travel to countries with sustained community transmissions.

Medical appointments will not be disrupted by the suspension; residents will be transported to appointments in sanitized vans.

Families responded positively to precautions like screening, Johnson said.

“I’m pleased that families are saying it’s a great idea,” she said. “It’s all about the safety of their family member.”

Adults over the age of 60 are at higher risk of getting sick from this illness, as well as people who have serious underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, or compromised immune systems.

The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living published information on reasonable efforts to prevent the coronavirus from entering skilled nursing centers. Recommendations include restricting entry to individuals who need it, restricting activities and individuals with potential to exposure, actively screening all individuals who enter the building and requiring individuals to wash their hands upon entry.

To date, most coronavirus-related deaths in the United States have been individuals over the age of 70, according to the American Health Care Association. It recommends these precautions regardless of whether the coronavirus has been found in a community.

“Waiting until the virus starts to spread in the community has been shown in prior viral epidemics to be too late,” a Thursday news release said.

Because senior living facilities serve a vulnerable population, Johnson said it’s crucial to be proactive. She encouraged the community to take the virus seriously and exercise caution, especially when interacting with people who are especially at risk.

“Wouldn’t it be awful if you were the one who brought in that virus to this vulnerable population?” she said.

In accordance with guidelines set by its parent company, Radiant Senior Living, The Renaissance at Coeur d’Alene has discontinued public outings and public events for now, though medical appointments will not be disrupted. Visitation has been restricted. All visitors are screened and must agree to policies regarding the virus.

If a confirmed case of coronavirus occurs in Idaho, The Renaissance at Coeur d’Alene will act in compliance with local and state health authorities, as well as the CDC.

Meanwhile, Johnson said Orchard Ridge has plans in place for how the facility will cope in the event of staff shortages due to illness.

“It really is everyone rolling up their sleeves,” she said. “We have a team environment here already. That goes from me cooking a meal to scrubbing a toilet—whatever it takes to keep us and our residents safe. Our staff is prepared to step it up.”