SageLife and HumanGood acted quickly to ensure their residents’ and employees’ safety.
This past spring, when a steady stream of coronavirus horror stories was coming out of senior living facilities across the United States, the safest places to be in this region were the private communities run by SageLife and HumanGood. SageLife has 650 residents and 500 employees on its six properties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. Of that number, 85 residents and employees tested positive for COVID-19. At press time, four residents had died of COVID-19. “Every loss of life is tragic,” says SageLife CEO Kelly Andress. “But we’re proud of the work we are doing to protect our residents.”
Similarly low infection rates are reported by HumanGood, which operates the Mansion at Rosemont and 20 other communities in six states. At those properties, HumanGood has about 5,400 residents and 5,000 employees. At press time, the company had 38 COVID positive tests among residents and employees. “We talk about our locations as communities, because they are,” says Russ Mast, vice president of operations for HumanGood. “Employees and residents took care of one another, which is even more evident at the Mansion at Rosemont because it’s in stark contrast to other places.”
Those other places are nursing homes, which have patients with co-morbidities that require regular medical care. SageLife and HumanGood have skilled nursing health facilities, but they didn’t have anything close to the infection rates in nursing homes around the state or elsewhere in the country. At many of those facilities, the numbers of COVID-19-related deaths triggered intervention by state and federal agencies.
On May 29, Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 2510, the COVID-19 Relief Act, which included $245 million in emergency funding for nursing homes. The following Monday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services implemented a new COVID-19 reporting requirement. As explained in an official memo, CMMS increased “penalties for noncompliance with infection control to provide greater accountability and consequence for failures to meet these basic requirements.”
How did SageLife and HumanGood keep its COVID-19 rates low? “We had an infection control plan long before the pandemic hit,” says Andress. “As senior housing providers, we have plans for outbreaks of all kinds, from influenza to GI viruses. Our residents were in lockdown—in their apartments—as soon as we saw the infection rates rising in this region.”
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It was the same at HumanGood properties. On March 6, the Mansion at Rosemont began taking temperatures and issuing questionnaires to employees and residents. Shortly thereafter, the management team halted group programming, got dining aligned with mitigation efforts, and stopped visitations. “We saw what was happening near our Seattle property, where it hit before here,” Mast says. “When we were just starting to hear about coronavirus in this region, we were already updating policies to protect residents and employees.”
Those policies included sheltering in place inside apartments, wearing masks and, when it was allowed, practicing social distancing. Though Andress and Mast are grateful for the professionalism of their staffs, both said that the residents deserve credit for containing COVID-19. They followed the rules even when they were tiresome and limiting. “People in their 80s and older are the Greatest Generation, which is also the Silent Generation,” Andress said. “They’ve been through worse—like World War II—and they know how to act responsibly for the common good.”
Technology helped seniors stay in touch with loved ones. SageLife and HumanGood staff members taught residents to use video platforms. “At all of our properties, we had crash courses,” Mast says. “Older adults are very resilient. Learning things like Zoom and FaceTime was not too much for them—especially if it connected them to family and friends.”
Positives aside, Andress and Mast point to several things that need correcting. COVID-19 testing remains scarce, and that denies data to decision-making executives like Mast. “Material support was slow in coming,” he says. “HumanGood went out and found the best testing to keep our residents and workers safe.”
Andress bemoaned the weeks-long shortage of personal protective equipment. “We had masks, gloves and sanitizers, but only the normal amount for our industry,” she says. “The supply chains broke down—and although we found resources, demand was overwhelming and unmet across the country.”
Mast and Andress also worry that, with stay-at-home orders lifted in Pennsylvania, infection rates will rise. Non-compliant visitors could infect the residents that Mast, Andress and their staffs work so hard to protect. “We’re in the early stages of a marathon,” says Andress. “We have a responsibility to safeguard our residents—and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”