Health care workers at senior facilities on the front lines of virus crisis

Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 5:56 PM EDT
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Thousands of Vermonters live in long-term care facilities -- most of them elderly -- and now shut off from the outside world to protect them from the coronavirus. After nine deaths in Vermont so far, most of them at a Burlington long-term care facility, the facilities are doing all they can to keep the state's most vulnerable population safe.

Senior care facilities like the Franklin County Rehab Center are working overtime to prevent the spread of COVID--19, with their health care workers on the front lines of the global crisis.

"Certainly this is an unprecedented time," said Coleen Condon Kohaut, the owner of Suncrest Healthcare Communities, which operates three senior living facilities in the St. Albans area with a population of around 140 residents.

Condon Kohaut says you can never be too prepared for a virus outbreak. "We've been working extreme hours, basically everyday, days into evenings into nights," she said.

Condon Kohaut says they are getting the latest guidance and information on COVID-19. They're also ramping up staff training, restricting most visitors, and checking the temperature of employees when they come through the door. But the concern of the spread is still there.

"The staff are just as nervous as everyone else out there," said Miranda Thayer, the director of nursing at Franklin County Rehab. She's also the facility's infection preventionist. She says like many health care facilities around the world, they're short on personal protective equipment and she worries about her staff getting sick from the virus. "The concern will be -- in a worst case scenario -- when they become ill."

Despite what's going on outside, they say staff and residents inside have high spirits. Residents miss their loved ones, but are handling the situation the best they can.

"There's definitely some unrest, but overall not having gone through something like this before, I think they're handling it quite well," Thayer said.

These health care workers understand families with loved ones at facilites may be nervous, but says they're working hard to keep residents safe and healthy.

"We just want to wish everyone well and to be safe. We're in this all together and we will come out stronger, and I really believe that," Condon Kohaut said.

The Vermont Department of Health has said Burlington Health & Rehab has been following CDC guidance on treatment and isolation of COVID-19 patients since concerns first arose. An additional positive case was reported this week at the Residence at Quarry Hill in South Burlington.