Staff at assisted living and long-term care communities are facing changes in their workloads under policies implemented in response to COVID-19. While residents are feeling the strain of separation from their families, activities directors, nurses and other staff are taking on many of the responsibilities usually handled by family members.

In addition to their usual responsibilities – which might include organizing activities, providing basic medical care, cleaning rooms, providing a listening ear or helping residents with transportation, staff must provide additional emotional support. For example, staffers are now carrying out physical tasks usually handled by family and are doing more work to meet strict social distancing and health guidelines imposed by the State of Utah. 

Lehi’s long-term care and assisted living facilities are taking it in stride and implementing guidelines with diligence. But in some cases, these burdens are very heavy.

Heather Miller, Activities Director at Covington Senior Living of Lehi, said the additional workload created by COVID-19 protocols is taxing.

Where she used to plan and run activities for one group, social distancing requirements compel her to hold the same activity multiple times. She has stepped up by cutting and styling hair for residents since hairdressers are among those prohibited from entering senior living facilities. When a resident moves or dies, the staff are now responsible for helping box up their belongings since state requirements prevent the family from entering the facility to do the job.

Even kitchen staff has stepped in to help with moving, a big job that is typically handled by families. Miller called the situation challenging.

The Utah Department of Health has mandated many requirements for long-term care, assisted living and independent living facilities. These policies include prohibiting outside visitors, social distancing for residents during activities including bus rides, and cancellation of public group activities and events. 

Residents must be spaced six feet apart in the cafeteria, which requires managing how many people are in the room at one time. Although, Miller said, the real downside is that residents are choosing to eat alone in their rooms since many aren’t able to hear well from a distance, making conversations around the table impossible.

Any visitor or staff entering the building must undergo a basic COVOD-19 screening. Although it isn’t required of residents, staff must wear face masks at all times. Masks muffle voices and many residents already struggle to hear, creating an additional element of frustration.

Covington is taking measures to adapt to the difficulties created by the state guidelines. They brought on hospice and home health care workers dedicated to their facility in mid-April, and they are in the process of hiring a full-time hairdresser who will work only in the facility.

Sierra Staley, Administrator at Beehive Homes of Lehi, a memory care facility, said the responsibilities for her staff have increased. They are required to watch for symptoms of illness, clean a lot, and to help with moving residents out. But the greatest workload increase is emotional. 

Because Beehive Homes cares for people experiencing memory challenges, residents often don’t understand what’s going on and they have had to rely more on staff now that their family isn’t able to see them. “It’s taken a lot of patience for the staff to continually try to explain,” Staley said. “They’ve done a really good job.”

Carol Lewis, Memory Care Director at Covington, agreed that the emotional demands are high with COVID policies.

In the wake of a change to state guidelines, both Covington and BeeHive Homes have just started allowing residents to have outdoor visits in their courtyard areas, where six feet of distance can be maintained, and masks must be worn. Only children old enough to keep a mask on are permitted. 

At BeeHive Homes, those who can’t remember that they need to stay away from their visitors can communicate through a gated area.

At Covington, for those who can’t go outside, two visitors are allowed at a time after screening for symptoms. There are also provisions for a family member to check-in for up to two weeks to help a resident with extenuating circumstances, or at end of life.

Brad Broska, Administrator for Bellaview Assisted Living and Memory Care, has faced a different situation. His facility just opened at the beginning of May, right in the middle of COVID-19 response. 

At Bellaview, residents are required to be tested for COVID-19 just before they move in. This allows them to avoid the hassle of quarantining as a new arrival and has allowed those who have moved in to get to know each other faster. They then test again after about 15 days.

As with the other facilities, Bellaview tests all staff and visitors upon arrival. Residents interface with their families through a wall of glass doors at the back facing a courtyard, where they can see each other and communicate via phone.

While Bellaview has implemented a testing requirement due to their unique situation of opening during COVID, Beehive Homes only tests if someone has symptoms. This was true of Covington as well until the legislature passed a bill in June allowing care facilities to require testing of all residents and staff. Covington plans to test all residents and staff very soon.

None of the facilities interviewed for this story had any cases of COVID-19.

Miller said residents at Covington have received cards and notes and expressions of support from all over the country, and that has been heartwarming, but the situation is extremely stressful for both residents and staff.

Commenting on what it’s been like to open an assisted living facility in the middle of COVID-19 Broska said, “It reminds you how delicate the setting we work in is. I think it’s going to make the environment safer for our residents long-term.”

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