Pennsylvania’s long term care organizations face the challenge of communicating to new residents and their families that facilities are safe to visit after closing their doors to visitors and prospective residents for months.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported on Friday that 4,345 of the state’s 6,399 total deaths from COVID-19 occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.
The department’s data, along with similar reports across the country, have made an uphill battle for providers of senior care trying to continue operations after months of decreased admissions.
“The census is down in nursing homes. There are families that are simply unwilling to send their loved ones to nursing homes and frankly that makes sense” said Zachary Shamberg, CEO and president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. “The ramifications for this will be long lasting.”
In the midst of the crisis, skilled nursing facilities, post-acute providers, assisted living residences, personal care homes and other senior care organizations were advised by the association to keep weekly communication with families and provide up to date information on any COVID-19 cases in their buildings.
IntegraCare, an Allegheny County-based senior living organization with facilities in Lancaster and Camp Hill, temporarily halted admissions in March and kept in contact with families of their residents through emails, phone calls and letters.
“In mid-March we put a halt on all admissions until we really wrapped our brain around how we were going to take care of our team members and residents,” said Eric Walker, executive director of sales and marketing with IntegraCare. “We’ve been communicating with family members regarding why they can’t come into the community and how much longer that will last.”
IntegraCare employs 600 staff members and oversees 670 residents at nine senior homes in Pennsylvania, one in Maryland and one in Virginia.
Now that the facilities are once again welcoming new residents, Walker said that the organization’s marketing has changed dramatically to mirror the precautions IntegraCare has taken with its residents.
“When you think of initial lead generation, we initially drove people into the community,” he said. “We know that most people want to take the community for a test drive but now with no visitation we can’t do that as easily.”
IntegraCare instead offers virtual tours and outdoor tours where potential residents walk through the community and look into houses from their windows.
To ease the minds of potential residents, patients and their families and to better care for COVID positive patients, Genesis Health Care, which operates the Hamilton Arms Center in Lancaster County, opened quarantine units in each of its facilities.
The senior care provider also converted one of its buildings in Philadelphia to a COVID only facility to help hospitals discharge stable patients with the virus to begin rehabilitation.
Sylvania, Ohio-based ProMedica Senior Care, a not-for-profit organization with skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in 22 states, saw admissions drop by 60% in April, which improved to 50% in May.
ProMedica Senior Care, formerly HCR ManorCare, operates a number of post-acute and long term care facilities in the midstate including Arden Courts of Susquehanna in Harrisburg, ManorCare Health Services in Camp Hill and Lebanon and Linden Village in Lebanon.
Marty Grabijas, vice president and director of marketing with ProMedica Senior Care, said that early on in the crisis he advocated his authority to ProMedica’s clinical team.
“They decide if we can bring patients in or not because it’s all about safety,” Grabijas said, adding that ProMedica has insisted on training its admissions team to be as good as nurses when evaluating risk.
“We are very clean and very locked down and we screen everyone coming in,” he said. “By making our staff experts in referrals and admissions, they are able to talk about how clean and safe the buildings are and can convince patients that it’s better to shelter in our environment when you recover if you are a short-term or long-term patient.”
Grabijas said that a primary worry of the system is that the increased stigma against long term care due to the high rates of COVID-19 in facilities will cause patients to stay home rather than seek out post-acute care.
ProMedicare is preparing a national campaign across all of the states it operates in to communicate that its facilities never took shortcuts and patients shouldn’t either.
“Going home is taking a shortcut and we aren’t taking shortcuts in managing the virus so you shouldn’t either,” Grabijas said. “All we’ve done as an industry is manage chronic conditions. We are really good at that.”