At Reformed Church Home, community outreach continues at a distance as state sets further guidelines for long-term care facilities


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At Reformed Church Home (RCH) in Old Bridge, the philosophy has always been to treat “residents and staff like family, to be transparent, and to put their safety and health first.”

And the philosophy continues as the state continues to express concerns and set guidelines for long-term care facilities in the midst of the global novel coronavirus pandemic, which has become a problem across the country.

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“In light of the extreme challenges we are presented with during this outbreak, we are doing our very best to follow all guidelines, tend not only to residents’ physical/medical needs, but also to their need for emotional support and comfort, communicate to families with transparency and honesty, and keep our very dedicated staff both safe and motivated,” said Andrea Walls, director of marketing at RCH. “We have even started an Employee Appreciation Fund, which families and local businesses have contributed to with monetary donations and gift card donations to provide food for all shifts. It has truly been an enormous team effort in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Since March 6, the New Jersey Department of Health has issued 18 orders or guidelines for long-term care facilities, which include three state veterans memorial homes, to follow in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The orders and guidelines include curbing outside visitation, allowing facilities to hire out-of-state certified nursing assistants to supplement staff, notifying residents’ families and staff of COVID-19 outbreaks in facilities, universal masking, having the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) needed, and most recently, prohibiting admissions for facilities that cannot cohort and maintain appropriate infection prevention restrictions.

There is a total of 324 long-term care facilities in the state with positive COVID-19 cases. Currently, 123 facilities are prohibited to admit new residents, state officials said.

Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli of the New Jersey State Department of Health states the number of cases and deaths of the long-term care facilities at the state’s daily press conferences. The number of cases and deaths continue to rise.

As of April 15, a total of 5,945 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported throughout the state.

“The overall population of long-term care facilities and assisted living is probably over 60,000,” Persichilli said with 10% of the population affected by COVID-19.

The commissioner said she reads through every incoming inquiry, complaint and concern.

“If we get a complaint or concern that really sounds like that shouldn’t be happening, somebody goes out,” she said, noting they rely heavily on local health officers. “They are the unsung heroes as well. They are taking care of their municipalities.”

The state is working with long-term care health care providers, who have the ability to cohort residents and have the necessary PPE required. Some 300 beds are available at facilities for individuals in hospital beds awaiting nursing home placement.

“We have worked with the Department of Human Services to develop an enhanced reimbursement plan for facilities that are open and admitting patients so they are able to maintain the infection prevention restrictions and have the financial foundation to purchase PPE and pay their employees,” Persichilli said.

RCH provides assisted living, rehabilitation, long-term nursing care and respite care services in Old Bridge. It celebrated 20 years at its Old Bridge facility in 2018.

Walls said at RCH, administrators review and implement all state, federal and Middlesex County Department of Health guidelines to the very best of their ability as communications are received. They communicate daily with the Middlesex County Health Department to provide updates.

Through state and county guidelines, RCH must notify residents, staff and family members whenever a case of COVID-19 is diagnosed in a resident or staff member or there is a person under investigation for suspected illness. Each resident’s emergency contact must be called via phone with the information, followed up in writing, Walls said.

“Note that we use email communications almost daily to keep families updated on our status, and to share photos or news on loved ones,” she said. “Our email list includes the primary emergency contact plus any other family member that the emergency contact directs us to add to the list.”

RCH currently has 125 residents with two confirmed positive cases in assisted living, zero confirmed positive cases in skilled nursing, zero deaths due to COVID-19 and four staff positive cases, who were quarantined at home, as of press time on April 15.

The facility closed its doors to visitors on March 13, including family members. Only staff, essential medical personnel and essential vendors – such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning system repair – are allowed in the building; all staff are screened daily with temperature checks and screening questions before each shift, which is logged daily for each staff member; and staff are instructed and encouraged to stay home if they have any COVID-19 symptoms at all. Staff with emerging symptoms while at work must be immediately sent home.

Temperature for essential medical personnel and vendors are also taken and they are asked to complete a screening questionnaire before entry, RCH officials said.

Nursing home residents’ temperatures are taken on each shift, monitored for any symptoms, and the information is recorded in the resident’s chart.

All staff are required to wear masks. Gowns and gloves are reserved for medical and nursing staff, and for some activities’ staff as required. RCH works with the Old Bridge Office of Emergency Management regarding PPE inventory and needs.

Residents are reminded to maintain social distancing. Staff has been in-serviced and residents have been instructed on proper hand washing techniques and hand hygiene. RCH installed hand sanitizer dispensers in each skilled nursing room and throughout the hallways and common areas.

Communal dining has been discontinued and all meals must be delivered to the resident’s room.

RCH’s activities department continues to find creative ways to engage residents, with personal visits, visits from RCH’s two foster dogs from Husky House in Matawan, and use of the home’s live-feed camera to broadcast spiritual services, exercise, and other events from the multipurpose room to residents’ in-room televisions.

Activities staff members assist residents with calls via Skype and FaceTime to stay connected with family members, who can make an appointment through phone or email. Walls said they have been able to accommodate almost every request since the closure.

Residents of RCH are known for their community outreach from visits to Silver Linings at Old Bridge to collecting monetary and non-perishable donations for the local food pantry.

Community outreach continues at a distance and are posted on social media to comfort families and keep spirits up. Activities include a visit from the Easter Bunny, virtual Tai Chi and Country Fair Day.

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