Virus-resistant protocols and procedures in place
If any assisted living residence is equipped to resist the coronavirus, it’s Jamie’s Place in Winthrop.
Jamie’s Place — an adult family home that is truly a communal dwelling as opposed to a typical eldercare facility — is home to a dozen Methow Valley elders, who receive assistance and medical care from a team of 25 local staff members, all of whom are focused on protecting the aging community members from the potentially devastating effects of the coronavirus.
“It’s been the busiest two weeks I’ve had in nine years here,” says Jamie’s Place Administrator and CNA Angie Ochoa. “But we’re all doing really well. Everyone is healthy, everyone is happy.”
Ochoa says that Jamie’s Place caregivers are following state guidelines for adult family homes, but even before new protocols were mandated in the wake of coronavirus concerns, Jamie’s Place staff decided to implement conservative measures regarding face-to-face human interactions. “We saw what was happening on the west side,” says Ochoa, “and we knew we needed to step up our game here.”
The first step, says Ochoa, was educating herself and her staff. “We found medically accurate information, got all the staff involved, and learned as much as we could about mitigating coronavirus transmission risk,” she says.
The next step was maintaining an unruffled environment in Jamie’s Place’s two homes. “We needed everyone to stay as calm as possible,” Ochoa says. “We needed to stay calm for the elders. They have as much access to news and rumors as anyone else. We all needed to be rational and informed.”
Typically, Jamie’s Place is host to a cadre of volunteers who facilitate activities, family members and friends visiting the elders, children traipsing over from Little Star Montessori School next door, “and people just coming and going all the time,” says Ochoa. But for now, these lively and loving visits are on temporary hold. “We just can’t take the chance,” Ochoa says. “Our elders trust us to take care of them. We have to get it right; there’s no room for error.”
Now, when staff members — as well as board members and nurses, physical therapists and doctors doing house calls — arrive for a new shift at Jamie’s Place, their temperatures are taken immediately. If anyone has an elevated temperature or any other signs or symptoms of illness, they’re sent home. If they’ve been around people who suspect they may have been infected, they can’t work at the residence. And staff members are asked to limit or curtail their travel for the time being, says Ochoa, who recently canceled her own plans to visit San Francisco. “I can’t risk bringing something back,” she says.
Family members of elders, too, are subject to restrictions. In an effort to limit the number and scope of visitors to Jamie’s Place, each elder is allowed to have one family member visit once per day. These visitors must pass the temperature and general health screening, must not have traveled to the west side in the seven days preceding their visit to Jamie’s Place, and must not have been around sick people. Again, says Ochoa, “we can’t take those risks.”
So far most people have been very understanding, Ochoa says, including the resident elders. “The elders are very proactive for themselves,” she says. “If someone comes through the door and a staff member isn’t right there to intercept them, the elders say ‘Stop, wait for a caregiver to take your temperature!’”
“Jamie’s Place is not in lockdown,” Ochoa assures the community, addressing one of many rumors circulating in our new coronavirus environment. “We’re just being super smart, super conservative.”
Supporting Jamie’s Place staff in maintaining the safest possible environment for the elders is an educated and caring board, says Ochoa, who turns to this medically strong board for expertise and guidance. “I’m not afraid to ask for advice or help,” she says. “There’s always someone out there who knows the answer to my questions.” Jamie’s Place board members are currently holding meetings through Zoom, instead of gathering on-site, but the expertise Ochoa seeks is still never more than a phone call away.
This ability to seek counsel in challenging and uncertain times has served Ochoa and Jamie’s Place well over the past nine years — a decade that has included the Carlton Complex, Rising Eagle, Twisp River and other wildfires, persistent smoke, mudslides, evacuations, and even a temporary relocation of elders to Harmony House in Brewster — and it will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead, as the coronavirus crisis unfolds.
Ochoa knows that staff members will get sick, if not with COVID-19 then with other, routine illnesses, and won’t be able to work. She has backup caregivers to take their places. Other caregivers have young children who are now out of school for at least six weeks. “Most of us here are moms,” Ochoa says, “we know how to figure out things like that. One of my daughters is already babysitting, and the other one probably will be later this week.”
Jamie’s Place is well-stocked with food and cleaning supplies, as well as the elders’ prescription medications. “When I saw what was happening at other facilities early on,” Ochoa says, “I learned from their oversight. I immediately called the pharmacy we use and ordered a 30-day backup supply of medication for each elder. I told the insurance company I didn’t care how they did it, but that they needed to figure it out.” Ochoa received the medications.
With the alarmingly rapid spread of the coronavirus, Ochoa says, “we always knew it wasn’t ‘if,’ it was ‘when.’ And we want to be prepared.”
Jamie’s Place is important to a lot of people in our community, Ochoa says, and it is as prepared as it can possibly be to demonstrate quintessential Methow Valley grit and resilience in the face of adversity.
“This is a trying time for everyone: elders, staff and families,” says Ochoa. “But we have strong caregivers. They’re smart, dedicated and educated. I have the best staff and residents in the world. We’re going to get through this.”