Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have known that seniors were among the most vulnerable to the virus and required special attention. In care facilities, seniors were quarantined – separated from family and friends by glass partitions or sheer distance. To society’s credit, those same seniors were among the first persons to be offered the newly-developed COVID vaccines.
Nonetheless, as of this writing, DHEC reported more than 20,000 COVID-19 infections among residents and staff in assisted living facilities and nearly 2,000 fatalities. But in the Lowcountry and the Upstate, some senior facilities added virtually nothing to those grim tallies.
One of these is the Martha Franks Retirement Community in Laurens. This faith-based – Southern Baptist – institution offers a range of accommodations from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing care. For reporting purposes, the latter two levels of care were considered. To date, the nursing center has registered zero resident cases and, of course, zero resident fatalities. Executive Director Pollyanna Franks said “We are one of the few nursing facilities in South Carolina that have had no positive resident cases in our nursing center. We are so proud of our team.”
Throughout the year, Martha Franks did record 19 positive tests among staff. Those infected frontline workers were sent home with pay to quarantine for 14 days before returning to work.
How did they do it? First, they upgraded the filtration in their already very adequate air purification system. Then they tasked one staffer with spraying all common surfaces with disinfectant twice daily.
“We shut down our communal areas as well,” Nursing Home Administrator Katie Holliday noted. “At the outset, we sequestered residents in their rooms and delivered all meals and activities to them there. It was a tremendous amount of work, but, at a time when the threat to them seemed so great, we saw it as a necessary step.”
Martha Franks also purchased and installed antiviral Plexiglas enclosures for family visits.
In sum, to rack up not a single case of COVID-19 among its residents, Martha Franks Retirement Community took many of the same precautions as other institutions. But they had extra help. As Franks expressed it: “The glory has to go to God. We did our very best, but we wouldn’t have done better than so many others without His help.”
In the Lowcountry, one facility that truly stands alone is Alice’s Clubhouse in Mount Pleasant. To date, the Clubhouse has also registered a total of zero COVID-19 cases. In fairness, Alice’s Clubhouse is not an assisted living facility. Rather, it is a meeting place that assists seniors with memory issues. At the same time, it truly is a “clubhouse,” affording members a welcoming safe space during the daytime, Monday through Friday. The Clubhouse also offers members a host of entertaining and medically useful activities, from cognitive word games to art projects to live musical entertainment.
Alice’s Clubhouse’s members are monitored closely for any signs of viral infection. Their temperatures are taken daily and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control – guidelines on masking and social distancing are rigorously observed. Hand sanitizers abound. There is a nurse to assess each member and treat minor issues. Other medical professionals on-call include a primary care physician, a podiatrist, a dentist, an optometrist and an audiologist, as well as speech, physical and occupational therapists. A beautician makes regular rounds, and every two weeks members enjoy visits from both a librarian and friendly therapy dogs.
Executive Director Diane Sancho said, “We are organized to help our members engage with others and socialize normally, without feeling ostracized because of their memory issues, as might be the case at a community senior center.”
The Clubhouse is a tremendous asset not only for its members but for their families, friends and caregivers. It’s the only facility in the state offered with this structure, but it’s not for everyone. Its capacity tops out at 30 per day and it is private pay – but it is covered by most long-term insurance policies. Nonetheless, Sancho explained, “We are always looking for ways to keep our costs down so we can serve more members.”
And, yes, there really is an Alice. Her husband and son founded and funded the Clubhouse when they realized there was nothing to address their needs for Alice – who is a regular there.
By Bill Farley