Won’t back down

Alpine Rehab and Nursing Center: Free of COVID-19

By Barbara Pierce

Mohawk Valley In Good Health newspaper senior staff correspondent Barbara Pierce recently spoke with Casey Bayes, assistant administrator at Alpine Rehab & Nursing Center, Little Falls, about the facility’s remarkable resilience in the face of the potentially deadly novel coronavirus.

Q.: Nursing homes are under attack from COVID-19 and are regarded as hot spots for transmission of the virus. Of the residents in Oneida County who have died of the virus, 70% were nursing home patients. The vast majority of patients who were hospitalized with the virus were from nursing homes. How is Alpine facing this major threat from COVID-19?

A.: We haven’t had COVID-19 in our building — not a single case.

Q.: That is remarkable! And much to be proud of! How did you achieve this?

A.: We started preparing in early March, before Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated isolation of residents. Our company, Personal Health Care, provided an adequate amount of personal protective equipment for the staff.

They also provided help with policies and procedures. We’ve had continuous education throughout this pandemic and our staff is wonderful and very cautious. Staff, residents and families have all taken this very seriously in cooperating with the many changes.

Q.: Experts say to meet this challenge of COVID-19, what is needed in nursing homes is adequate testing, protective gear and staffing. Many nursing homes have found that price too high, cutting into their already thin profit margin. What is your response to this?

A.: Our company feels protecting our residents is the top priority. We’re taking needed safety measures. The testing and PPE have been mandated; having adequate staffing available has much to do with availability. We’ve been lucky to have staff that have been with Alpine for many years and are dedicated to what they do. The testing is costly, but necessary; we’re happy to comply.

Q.:  The “no visitor” policy must be difficult for residents. How are you helping them get through this isolation?

A.: We’re on one level, so each resident has a window and can have window visits, which keeps spirits up. A window visit helps; they can’t hug their family, but they can see them and be reassured they are well.

We get the residents outside individually as much as we can. We’re looking forward to taking them out to the zoo, the museum, and other places of interest. That’s what we plan to do: outside activities.

And we have tele-visits all day. Our activity director, Deandra Macri, goes around with her laptop, connecting people with their families. It’s a huge success, especially for people who don’t have family in the area.

Q.: Do you have a mix of rehab patients and long-term patients?

A.: About half our residents are short-term residents, to whom we provide rehabilitation. They are recovering from a stroke, a hip replacement, or in declining health. We can do therapy seven days a week for these people, as opposed to most rehab facilities that offer only five days a week. The average length of stay for our rehab residents is 28 days. We love to see our residents go home safely and successfully!

Half our residents are long-term. We love them all the same and they become family.

Q.: What will the “new normal” look like for Alpine?

A.: Virtual visits will be a bigger part of what we continue to do, especially for those with no family locally. It helps to engage the residents and keeps their spirits up.

Q.: Anything else you would like to add?

A.: In 2017, we won the national Silver Award for Excellence through the American Health Care Association. This award is based on achievement in health care quality. Less than 10% of nursing homes have won the gold or silver award; it’s difficult to achieve and we’re very proud of it.

We’re working on our Gold Award application and look forward to showing our never-ending efforts to continue to improve the quality of care and life for our residents.