Our Heatherwood staff has kept one primary goal in mind over the span of the pandemic – to keep our vulnerable population of residents living in the Heatherwood home safe and healthy. After making a key decision during the onset of COVID-19, followed by tons of hard work and sacrifices, our staff so far has successfully prevented these residents from contracting the virus.
For more than three months, our Heatherwood staff stayed on campus and cared for 27 women ages 17-80 whose complex illnesses render them more susceptible to COVID-19. Fifteen staff members committed to moving in fulltime, along with one nurse and two medical techs, to care for our residents while self-isolating. The staff worked a total of 16 hours per day and cooked for our residents, cleaned the facilities, and provided other kinds of physical and emotional supports. Woods also ensured that the staff was taken care of, both on and off their shifts.
“Two weeks to one month is what we initially thought,” said Rashida Clegg, residential director at Woodlands (then Heatherwood’s residential manager). “It didn’t dawn on us that it would go for three months. But things were changing so quickly, and we were prepared.”
“Woods supplied staff with cots, we had a lot of blankets, and by the end of the three months, the bed was comfortable,” Rashida humorously added.
A typical day began at 7 a.m. with staff bathing our residents, brushing their teeth, and dressing them. They cooked breakfast and either fed our residents directly or provided support needed to help them eat their food. After residents finished their meals, our staff completed various activities throughout the day such as standing in the “standing box” with our residents to help them strengthen their lower extremities, taking our residents out on walks or for bike rides, playing water games, listening to music and creating arts and crafts. Prioritizing our residents’ safety while outdoors, our staff coordinated all outdoor activities near the residence and away from other surrounding homes and residents.
Staff on evening shifts cooked dinner and fed our residents. Household chores were also completed, such as deep cleanses of hallways and bathrooms, to ensure living conditions remained sanitary.
Since these were long and demanding days, our Heatherwood staff motivated each other in fun ways. For example, in their workspace, the manager and supervisor would hide prizes.
“We would do riddles and hide the gift cards in different spots, and we took pictures of the staff finding them,” said Rashida. “There were good moments where people cooked and took care of everybody. It was a family-fun thing.”
Still, long periods spent away from home and family were what made some days tougher than others for our staff.
“This experience was difficult because I had to leave my five-year-old at home,” said Ronda, one of our staff. “It was hard, but I thank my supervisor for giving me peace of mind so I could make that sacrifice for the Heatherwood ladies.”
Theresa, another staff member, said that even though there were times of exhaustion, her colleagues kept her in a good mood.
“I can say that I have a great spirit by the encouragement of my manager, Rashida,” Theresa said. “She would say, ‘Momma, you’re OK…Momma, you’re not tired.’ And I did it. It was a great experience.”
Parents and guardians have appreciated the commitment made by our staff to care for their loved ones while keeping the families connected. In addition to our management team here at Woods reaching out to them and providing updates, our Heatherwood staff designated time each week to video chat on FaceTime with the families. Beth Angrick, the mother of Anna, said the staff “did the very best they could” to stay connected with her family using FaceTime.
Beth said it was those FaceTime calls that helped her and her husband get through the difficulty of not being able to see their daughter.
“It’s been hard for me as a parent,” Beth said. “We were able to go twice when they opened up outside visitation in July. I got to see my daughter and her staff members during outside visits, but I wasn’t able to go inside to see anyone. It’s been difficult, having a daughter who can’t live with you.”
Ernie Mann, the father of Jennifer, was able to see his daughter as well back in July. Before the lockdown, he would visit Jennifer at least once a week. But, FaceTime and phone calls made up for the lost time during quarantine.
“I would call into the nurse’s station, and I would speak to someone at least one…two…three times a week — whether it was nursing, direct care staff, or Jennifer,” Ernie recalled. “The staff has been exceptional. They went above and beyond.”
Susan Anderson, the mother of Kara, has been especially thankful for Heatherwood’s decision to quarantine her daughter and our other residents and limit family visitation, given the risk they could have presented to our residents.
“[Woods] made the right decision because at the time of the lockdown in March, my husband and I had COVID-19,” said Susan. “Some parents were a little more upset than we were, but we were not…because if we had gone on campus, we could have spread it.”
Family members such as Beth, Ernie, and Susan have shown their gratitude for our staff in many ways – such as treating them to meals, for example. Monica Moser, director of Heatherwood, would go to various places, pick up the food that parents would order for them, and bring it back to the campus.
Caring for our residents has especially been personal to Rashida because of her first-hand experience at home with a vulnerable family member.
“I have a mother who’s medically fragile and I was able to ensure she was safe,” said Rashida emotionally. “I can’t express the gratitude I have for upper management checking on my family.”
The success with keeping all 27 of our Heatherwood ladies safe from COVID-19 for three months is a testament to the dedication and sacrifices made by our staff. Using Heatherwood’s example, several other residences went into self-isolation for shorter periods of time in order to protect our most vulnerable residents. Woods is committed to protecting our residents, and with amazing direct support professionals we will continue to push through these uncertain times together.