Laurie Godfrey faced a daunting challenge. As director of nursing for the Birch Patrick Skilled Nursing Facility at Sharp Chula Vista, she was responsible for protecting nearly 100 elderly, frail residents and about 130 staff members from COVID-19.
She found that trying to keep the deadly virus at bay came at great cost, and not just for those who became infected.
On March 15, 2020, as the novel coronavirus spread, the facility locked its doors to all outside visitors. In-person visits were replaced with outdoor chats, with families consigned to talking to their loved ones through closed windows, an excruciating isolation that persisted for most of the year.
On many evenings, Godfrey said, she went to the home she shares with her husband, crying, and feeling depressed and isolated.
“It was very tiring, to say the least,” she said. “It was like 24/7, all you thought about was COVID. There was a lot of worry because we didn’t want COVID to come into our facility, and there was a lot of change constantly, so you always felt like you were behind the eight ball. There was always just one more thing you needed to do.”
Despite the looming risks over the past year, there were some bright spots. The staff at Birch Patrick connected with residents in new ways in hopes of combating the isolation as families became unable to visit loved ones, unable to hug them and hold their hands.
“All of us have become closer to our long-term care residents because we’re trying to give them what they’re missing by the lack of physically seeing their families,” Godfrey said.
A resident who has lived at Birch Patrick for a few years was the first person in San Diego County to receive the COVID-19 vaccination on Dec. 21.
Previously, that resident, 72-year-old Carlos Alegre, didn’t have contact with his family, and they were unaware of his location or whether he was still alive. After his story got national attention, family members reached out to him from Mexico and Chicago.
Witnessing Alegre, other residents and staff be vaccinated that day was the “light at the end of the tunnel,” Godfrey said. Two weeks after the second shots were administered, the residents were amazed when they were once again allowed to mingle in the lobby and dining room.
“It’s funny because once we opened up the door to that wing, even though they couldn’t go outside and they couldn’t do what they normally do, they were all so excited,” she said. “Now, the smaller things are celebrated.”
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