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Elim Park Navigates Dangerous Waters Of COVID-19 With An Emphasis On Safety And Community

Elim Park Navigates Dangerous Waters Of COVID-19 With An Emphasis On Safety And Community

Ruth Havlick celebrated her 105th birthday this past February. She’s lived through the 1918 influenza pandemic, two world wars and other significant historic events over the past century.

Havlick, a nursing home resident at Elim Park Place, is now a COVID-19 survivor.

“She’s lived through everything,” said Ruth’s son, Jeff Havlick.

In her earlier years, Ruth Havlick enjoyed doting on her grandchildren and great grandchildren, volunteering in her church and baking pies and other treats for family and friends, explained her daughter-in-law Roberta Havlick, a Cheshire resident.

“She’s a good person with a good heart,” Roberta Havlick said of her mother-in-law.

Ruth Havlick was diagnosed with COVID-19 early in the spring. It’s been like a roller coaster, Roberta Havlick said. Some days were better than others.

“That’s how we went. It was up and down, up and down. Then there were more ups. Then, they really felt she was beyond it,” Roberta Havlick said.

The pandemic has infected more than 40 Elim Park residents. Eleven have died, according to statewide nursing home data from earlier this month. The state reported two deaths considered COVID-19 probable.

Thirty-one residents, including Ruth Havlick, have recovered from the illness, according to Elim Park.

The residents who became COVID-19 infected all lived in Elim Park’s skilled nursing care facility, explained Brian Bedard, the organization’s president and CEO. Elim Park reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case on April 10. It’s been a trying three months since the first case. Managers have attempted to provide for residents and staff a means to stay connected with staff, other residents and family.

When the pandemic began, Elim Park had been 97 percent occupied, with 429 residents in facilities across its entire campus, Bedard said. Occupancy levels declined when the facility stopped admitting patients who needed short-term rehabilitation, to focus on its long-term care residents.

“Everything changed. The way residents were recreating — bingo and other activities, it stopped,” Bedard said.

The facility’s life enrichment staff, he said, became central to plans to slow the virus’ spread, while also keeping residents engaged and preventing them from feeling isolated.

“It’s one thing to go through a virus. It’s another to be isolated on top of that,” Bedard said. So the staff tried to keep residents engaged.

“This has been tough on everybody who’s had to endure the virus. It’s been a journey,” he said.

Maintaining adequate supplies of personal protective equipment throughout wasn’t an issue for the nursing home, Bedard said.

It wasn’t until earlier this month that staff working in Elim Park’s COVID-19 wing stopped donning Tyvek protective suits, wearing masks and gloves instead.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” Bedard said. “We are going slow.”

It will be quite some time before the nursing home resumes its previous visitations and group activities.

Many Elim Park staff members, including some administrators, who worked with COVID-19 patients have not gone home to their families. They’ve stayed at local hotels.

Bedard lauded the employees for their bravery and selflessness.

“This isn’t just a job for people who work here,” Bedard said, noting those staff having shown they “care less about themselves and more about each other.”

Christine Vachon, a nurse who treated residents in the COVID wing, said, “It’s been a long two-and-a-half months. We just got out of our Tyvek suits on Saturday.”

To date, 23 Elim Park staff members have tested positive for the disease — 17 nursing home employees and six employees who worked in the independent living area of the facility.

Those employees were immediately removed from work and instructed to self-isolate. No residents in the independent living apartments have been impacted.

Beginning this week (June 14), nursing homes will be required to conduct COVID-19 testing of all staff on a weekly basis, according to a June 1 executive order issued by Gov. Ned Lamont.

Bedard said Elim Park has started testing staff per the executive order.

Elim Park resident Bob Huey, 97, is another COVID-19 survivor. A former U.S. Coast Guardsman, Huey is a World War II veteran, said his daughter Linda Matthewson.

Two months ago, Huey slowly began to show symptoms. It began with a fever.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of hope,” Matthewson said. “He is 97 years old. He had been in the hospital a month before with pneumonia. But he has survived. He is considered recovered, as of May 30.”

Matthewson, a Pennsylvania resident, said her father didn’t appear to let the isolation that came with COVID-19 treatment and recovery dampen his spirits. But Matthewson said it was difficult to be barred from visiting.

“That broke my heart that I couldn’t be at his bed side. It’s the most difficult thing for all of the people who have COVID,” she said.

But the Elim Park staff, Matthewson said, was “incredible,” in setting up video calls and constantly communicating with families.

Matthewson had a video chat with her father on Friday afternoon. He grinned as they talked.

“My dad is doing great. It’s amazing,” she said.

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