After three months of operating under strict lockdown rules that had prohibited families from seeing their parents in person and had required elderly residents to remain confined to their rooms, local nursing homes and assisted living facilities are cautiously looking to ease those rules.
At both Cantata Adult Life Services in Brookfield and Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care in North Riverside, leaders last week announced plans to slowly relax the strict protocols in order to allow residents to eat in the common dining rooms and visit one-on-one with family members.
“The temptation to throw your hands up in the air and say, ‘Let’s open,’ is real,” said Gus Noble, president of Caledonia Senior Living. “We all want to get back to a place where we can hug one another. But we’ve got to guard against doing things that aren’t systematic.”
Caledonia is slowly reinstating physically distant group exercise classes and outdoor family visits. Its trishaw, the three-wheeled bicycle obtained to take residents out for a spin in the fresh air, has been taken out of mothballs for solo tours.
“The residents are certainly in need of some other type of view than the view from their rooms,” Noble said. “I’m astonished every day by the resilience of the people who live and work here.”
Noble, who lives on the North Side of Chicago with his wife and two small children, got an intimate look at both last month, as the facility entered its third month under lockdown – he moved in and lived there 24 hours a day from May 8-15.
“I did it for a lot of reasons,” Noble said. “I wanted to see the world through the eyes of the people who live and work here. … It was an important thing to be seen around the community, I wanted to encourage the idea that we’re all in it together.”
In a letter to families on June 4, Cantata CEO John Larson said the Wye Valley and Woodlands facilities would begin to serve residents one meal per day in their dining rooms, paying close attention to physical distancing.
They, like Caledonia, are also trying to find ways to allow residents outdoors to enjoy the grounds and interact with fellow residents. Cantata is also planning a Father’s Day weekend for families to visit their loved ones.
“As we move forward to improve the social interactions on our campus, it is imperative that we do not let our guard down and increase the chance of exposure to our residents,” Larson wrote.
Both facilities in May also ramped up testing. Larson’s letter to families indicated that Cantata tests its employees weekly, while Noble said all employees and residents are tested weekly at Caledonia.
At both facilities, there have been some confirmed positive tests among staff, who must then quarantine at home and test negative twice before returning to work. Caledonia has been under a weekly testing regimen for the past six weeks, administering 715 tests on 197 people.
Those 715 tests, said Noble, resulted in 17 positive results. Anyone who tests positive is immediately re-tested. If that test comes back negative, they are tested again. If that also comes back negative, Noble said the first test is assumed a false positive.
Of the 17 positives in the first six weeks, 14 of them were assumed to be false. The remaining three were asymptomatic staff, who were ordered to self-quarantine. No residents have been confirmed positive at Caledonia.
Testing of residents and staff also increased in May at Cantata, said Kevin Heraty, Cantata’s chief development officer. Residents of its skilled nursing facility are tested every other week, while those in assisted and independent living were last tested at the end of May and will move to an every-other-week testing regime this month.
Anyone entering a campus building – including doctors and vendors – must show proof of a negative test within the past seven days.
“This ability to test and get results quickly has led us to say we can start opening things up,” Heraty said.
Fourth COVID fatality in Brookfield
A woman in her 60s died from COVID-19 on June 7, the Cook County Medical Examiner reported on its online dashboard tracking deaths from the upper respiratory disease that results from infection by the novel coronavirus.
She was the fourth Brookfield resident known to have died from COVID-19 since the county began keeping records in March.
However, the rate of new cases, despite a marked increase statewide in testing, remain low. Brookfield has had 165 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but as of the morning of June 9, the week over week increase in new cases was just 4.4 percent, the village’s lowest rate of increase since the pandemic began.
Riverside saw just two new confirmed cases since the morning of June 2, bringing the village’s total to 90. North Riverside, as of the morning on June 9, has had 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a 10-percent increase in cases week over week.