Presbyterian Manor takes gradual approach to reopening community
A large bulletin board in Heather Pilkinton’s office details current procedures and plans for gradually reopening Topeka Presbyterian Manor.
“It looks a little like a CSI crime investigator board,” joked the community’s executive director. “But it helps to have everything right in front of me.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Heather has overseen frequent changes to operations. Though the community was already taking precautions, everything changed on March 13 after the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) advised communities to temporarily end communal dining and activities and restrict community visitors.
“That started a process of days and weeks and now months of reinventing our operation many times over,” she said.
For the last several weeks, the community has gradually lifted some restrictions. Recently, assisted living residents have been able to eat lunch in the dining room, and some small-group activities have resumed.
Of course, nothing is quite the same. Gatherings are currently limited to 10 residents, all of whom are required to wear masks and remain six feet apart from each other. Assisted Living residents are attending chapel in the dining room in order to spread out more, and up to five chapel services have been offered in a single day in order to accommodate everyone.
Lunch in the dining room has become a logistically complicated operation. A staff member takes temperatures before residents enter, and each diner sits one to a table in order to ensure social distancing. Staff also follow cleaning protocols before and after each meal.
In a pandemic, plans tend to change due to a variety of factors. The date for communal dining was pushed back a few weeks due to the rising numbers of cases in the county.
“We’re always trying to figure out what is most appropriate for our setting,” Heather said. “We have had no COVID here at all, so we would probably be opening the doors to families at this point if the community spread in Shawnee County weren’t so high. Unfortunately, we can’t have community members come in when that is happening.”
In the meantime, Presbyterian Manor staff have looked for ways to help residents with things their families usually take care of, such as grocery shopping. Staff created a weekly grocery order form so that residents can purchase essentials, and they have tweaked the list to provide things the residents ask for, like shampoo. One staff member even went out of her way to shop for a specialty item that a resident missed.
Dining staff have worked to make special meals for holidays spent away from family, and residents celebrating birthdays get balloons and a cake of their choosing. For a couple of weeks, Heather, who still holds her cosmetology license, spent several hours a week cutting residents’ hair.
Since mid-March, staff from dining, housekeeping, nursing and activities have worked together to make sure each resident received three meals a day delivered to their door.
“The collective attitude was, ‘We’re going to get this done and do it well,’” Heather said. “I saw people pulling together in superhuman ways.”
The activities staff set up a schedule so that Assisted Living and Health Care residents have the opportunity to have an assisted video chat with loved ones once a week, and family members who live locally have been devoted to window visits. Some visit almost every day.
As the community looks forward to opening up further, Heather’s biggest concern is moving slowly enough to continue. She notes that if a resident or staff member tests positive, everything will shut down again. She wants to avoid that “psycho-social roller coaster” if at all possible.
“Senior living communities will be the last segment of society to reopen, because this is such a vulnerable population,” she said. “Outside our doors, things might be different. But here, it might be some time down the road before things are fully open.”
Though no one is enjoying the current reality, most understand that Presbyterian Manor is doing what is needed for the good of the whole community.
“The majority of what I hear from residents is they have a thankful heart,” Heather said. “They don’t like being isolated in the way they have had to be, but they appreciate they’re in a place where the staff can protect them.”