Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
On any ordinary day before the COVID-19 pandemic, a visitor to Fernley Estates Senior Living and Memory Care would have seen families enjoying lunch or dinner together at one of the dining room tables, or relaxing in the lounge.
But since word began to spread of the first major outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., Fernley Estates has been trying to keep a sense of normalcy for residents, while doing its best to kep the virus from getting in.
Those visiting family members or friends at Fernley Estates and other facilities operated across the state by Mission Senior Living, have been limited to staying connected with residents via Zoom or window visits, while the facilities work to keep the virus from reaching its vulnerable population.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re doing everything right to get to the back side of this,” Mission Senior Living president Darryl Fisher said. “From my perspective, we’re prepared for the long haul.”
Fisher, who is also the president of Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, which gives airplane rides to veterans across the nation living in assisted living facilities, was on his way to Florida for an Ageless Aviation Dreams event, but turned around and returned home when he was informed of the COVID-19 outbreak at the Washington facility.
So far, none of Fernley Estates’ residents or team members have contracted COVID-19, which Fisher attributes to hard work and luck.
Fernley Estates, which is currently at 88 percent occupancy, immediately stopped in-person visits except in the case of end of life situations, and moved dining room tables farther apart.
“We started wearing masks before it became standard, and we screen all team members and physicians who visit the facility,” Fisher said. “We question them and take their temperature, and make sure they all have protective equipment.”
In addition, he said team members and leaders have been aggressive in trying to limit their exposure when they leave the facility.
Mission Senior Living began using Zoom about a year ago to hold virtual meetings, so Fisher said it was easy to set it up for residents’ visits with family members. Residents and families also visit by chatting on their cell phones while seeing each other through the window.
“I happen to know people up there and corresponded with folks, and we were getting medical information early in the game that helped us make those decisions,” Fisher said.
Because isolation is very difficult for seniors, Fisher said staff have taken residents on outdoor walks, played “Where’s Waldo” and have been posting more frequently to Facebook where families can see what’s going on with their loved ones.
“We’ve chosen specifically not to isolate people in their apartments,” Fisher said. “If those residents were in their own homes, they would be isolated.”
Even so, he said, some residents have chosen to self-isolate.
“The bottom line is we can’t be 100 percent sure we are not going to get it unless we lock ourself in a room, and we just can’t do that and fulfill our mission,” Fisher said.
Meanwhile, Fisher said he is briefed daily by epidemiologists and other experts to stay on top of the latest information and recommendations for preventative measures. Part of that is making sure staff has enough personal protective equipment on hand.
“Nationally it’s still tough to get N95 masks,” he said. “We have enough masks set aside for an outbreak and 4,000 on order. Were trying to prepare for the worst given the scarcity of things.”
Sierra Chef in Gardnerville and local volunteers made cloth masks for the facility’s staff to use when non-surgical or N95 masks are not required.
On March 15, Mission Senior Living’s leadership and business partners made the decision to give a $5 per hour raise for every staff member, with the exception of the administrator. That increase has recently been extended to May 14.
“We felt this was the best thing we could do for our team members and for our residents,” Fisher said.
And while news reports abound about COVID-19 outbreaks running through nursing homes, Fisher emphasized that is not the case in most of them.
“There’s approximately 15,000 skilled nursing facilities and about 20,000 assisted living facilities around the country,” he said. “It’s not that way everywhere, and not that way in the vast majority of facilities. We’re going to do everything to protect our residents and team members.”