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Separated by the pandemic part 7: Schooner Estates

John Rice, Director of Operations for Schooner Estates, in front of the outdoor visitors’ area that the facility created to allow tenants to meet face-to-face with their family or friends. Separated by the double fencing, everyone is required to wear a mask for the face-to-face visits. (Photo by Nathan Tsukroff, PortraitEFX)

The following story is the seventh and final interview by Nathan Tsukroff of PortraitEFX to capture the effects of this pandemic on the people of Maine. 

Slowly but surely, restrictions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic are starting to ease. For healthcare facilities such as Schooner Estates, a retirement community in Auburn offering independent and assisted living options for senior citizens, easing restrictions does not mean easing the care and oversight for the health of tenants and residents.

Currently, entrance to the building is only through the main front door, where everyone is greeted by a staff member for temperature checks and verification that they do not have any symptoms or known exposure to the Covid-19 coronavirus. 

Cindy Swift, RN, the Director of Nursing Services at Schooner Estates, said the facility has “a good medical team that is checking in on folks, too, making sure they’re not feeling isolated. And making sure that if there’s needs – like they’re not feeling great, that we get them seen, and set up a video visit with their doctor, if that’s the best way to support them during the isolation, and then get their needs met as well, medically.”

“That’s been working out really, really well,” she said. “We see the changes from the factors in the isolation that come into play, where they’re feeling more isolated and socially disconnected. But I think Schooner’s done a fabulous job, and we have tenants that are innovative and coming up with their own solutions” so they can visit with each other while still maintaining the necessary social distancing.  Residents and tenants are staying six feet apart indoors, while the spring and summer weather is allowing for outdoor visits and activities. “We’ve done a couple birthday parades where family members have come through and really done a lot of celebration that way”.

Swift said she thinks the dietary department “is doing an amazing job with room service,” which provides an additional connection with each tenant as daily meals are delivered. If the dietary staff sees any issues with a tenant, or the tenant shares something with them, “we’re able to respond.”

Socially-Separated Visits; as the US started to realize the dangers of cross-infections from the pandemic back in March, Schooner Estates closed its doors to all visitors, and residents were required to wear masks and stay at least six feet apart from each other. Visits from family members were conducted through a closed glass window or door, while talking on the telephone. 

Several weeks ago, Schooner Estates was able to allow in-person visits again, with proper social-distancing, according to Director of Operations John Rice. The facility set up a series of awnings outdoors near the main entrance, with a double-fence system creating a six-foot gap between the tenants and their guests. Although limited to two visitors and two tenants for a visit, with everyone wearing masks, residents can at least talk to family directly.

Residents can also use tablets or a computer to connect with family and friends over the internet. Other residents chat over the phone. “Everybody has their own needs,” Rice said, noting that the facility staff works to meet everyone’s needs, although at times it feels “very challenging.” He said the staff takes satisfaction in meeting those challenges.

A Changing Environment; Schooner Estates is careful to follow the guidance and mandates from the State of Maine, Rice said. “We closely watch what the guidance is, and as soon as the guidance changes, we adapt to that guidance, whether it’s a positive change or a negative change. Although it’s been more positive changes than negative changes!” 

The state is very cognizant of the physical and emotional effects the social-distancing requirements have on senior citizens in Maine, but wants to keep them safe. “So they’re being very cautious, and so are we. We’re respecting the science, we’re respecting the data.” Rice said. Once Schooner Estates learned that it would be okay to do outside visits, “we jumped at the opportunity, and we did it as quickly as we could.” 

“Everything here meets the guidelines, abides by the guidelines,” from the state, Rice said. The facility had to add staff for various functions, including monitoring the visitor sessions outdoors. Visits are limited to two person on a side, and the staff member ensures everyone is wearing a mask during the visit. Bringing in the extra staff “was our commitment to doing this for the residents.”

Facilities Working Together; Schooner Estates regularly networks with other long-term facilities in Maine, Rice said. “We’re a pretty close-knit group in the state, especially Central Maine. My counterparts through all the other providers in the area, you know, we’ve routinely had meetings for years.”

The Lewiston-Auburn area is in Region 2 of the Maine Healthcare Association, and “pretty much every long-term care center in the area, we meet every other month,” he said. “Or at least, we used to!”

The facilities are very collaborative in their efforts, Rice said, because, while long-term facilities only need to meet state mandates, nursing homes must follow federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines and protocols that “are very hard to meet.” Facilities have to network as peers, with directors asking each other “How did you solve that? How did you fix that?” Rice said. When a tenant or resident has to go to the hospital for an illness or other reasons, and then must spend time in a rehab facility, working together means that all the facilities can provide the care needed for the success of the tenant or resident. 

“We talk a lot. We support each other. We communicate,” he said. “Even though we’re all different organizations, we’re caring for the same people. We all meet the same licensing and regulation rules.”

Changes in Staffing; besides adding staff, the facility had to adjust the schedules of managers to ensure someone was available both weekdays and weekends to address the needs and concerns of tenants and visitors.“It supports the staff, and it also supports family and friends,” Rice said. The facility saw a range in the compliance of tenants and visitors to the rules established under state guidelines during the pandemic, so having managers at the facility every day to address various issues “just helps!”

Rice said he was unable to take time off for about three months, to ensure he was there for the staff and tenants. Staff members have been careful to keep themselves and their families safe from infection, he said. There have not yet been any cases of Covid-19 infection among any staff or tenants, so the rules the facility has put in place have been effective.

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