Only a health care worker can understand what life was like inside a skilled nursing home experiencing the lethal impact of COVID-19 in the earliest months of 2020. As the pandemic started its sweep across America in late February, no one knew much about it, yet Life Care’s Denver-area facilities boldly prepared themselves to fight it with the knowledge, skill and equipment they did have – just as providers around the country were doing. These facilities included Hallmark Nursing Center in Denver, Life Care Center of Aurora, Life Care Center of Littleton, Life Care Center of Stonegate in Parker and Villa Manor Care Center in Lakewood.
When the first positive cases of COVID-19 reached Life Care’s facilities in the Denver area, medical professionals around the country were still uncertain about how the virus spread; they only knew that it spread quickly. Testing was limited in those early days, and Life Care’s associates (staff members) were rightfully scared.
“I will never forget the courage and strength I saw from staff in our buildings during this time – the countless hours that staff worked to take care of all their residents, making sure they were cared for and felt loved,” said Cristal Collier, regional director of business development. “I want the world to know that these staff members are heroes. They truly are champions of care!”
As guidance on how to deal with an outbreak changed almost daily and PPE became an acronym everyone was familiar with, the loss of life in nursing homes around the country was staggering. Each time a facility lost a resident or associate, the pain was devastating. It was like losing a member of their own family.
“I know that this experience has forever changed me in so many ways that I am sure are yet to come to the surface,” said Julia James, a certified nursing assistant at Villa Manor Care Center in Lakewood. “Even through the heartbreak and loss, the bad days and even worse days, I am thankful for every one of my friends and co-workers that still fight daily. I know that I would never change choosing this amazing and fulfilling career. I know that this is where I was meant to be. If I could change the things that happened, I would. But if I had to, I would do it all over again because I love them all dearly.”
Life Care associates worked tirelessly to remain up to date on latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the local and state health departments. Despite their grief, they sacrificed their own health and dedicated themselves to their work, to serving their residents and encouraging and uplifting their co-workers. While they battled the virus inside the walls of the facility, they were also dealing with the effects of the pandemic on their personal lives – the same fears and challenges and changes that all of us have dealt with over the last year.
When asked how her associates were able to doggedly focus on caring for their residents despite the challenges COVID-19 brought, Life Care Center of Littleton’s executive director, Michelle Fraternali, explained: “I believe it was Dr. Robert Schuller who said, ‘Tough times don’t last; tough people do.’”
Still, it was evident that the pandemic had taken a huge toll on Life Care’s associates in the Denver area, and facility leadership recognized a need to help associates recover and know that their heroic efforts had been seen and were validated. The result was the birth of “Home of Champions,” an internal campaign that was created to intentionally cheer on the associate heroes who walk the halls of Life Care facilities in the Denver area every day. It’s a program to recognize associates whose valiant efforts often go unnoticed but who wholly deserve recognition and praise.
The campaign seeks to encourage associates through everything from handwritten notes to team-inspired signage throughout the facility to an inspirational champion-themed devotional booklet written by a former president of Life Care.
Today, Life Care’s Denver-area facilities continue to provide a high level of service to their residents in a safe environment that focuses on the health and peace of mind of residents and their families. And the introduction of a vaccine late last year brings a renewed sense of hope and excitement that a new normal is just around the corner.
“Our No. 1 responsibility is to our residents and keeping them safe,” said Kurt Hunter, executive director at Life Care Center of Stonegate. “It always has been. COVID-19 has only heightened that responsibility. We are now starting to go on the offensive with the pandemic [with vaccinations]. We are hopeful of what the future will bring, and in the meantime, Life Care’s associate Champions will rise!”
The fight against COVID-19 is far from over, and Life Care’s associates remain vigilant. Every day, they still show up on the front lines and do everything possible to prevent the virus from re-entering their facility and to protect their residents – their facility family.
Hallmark Nursing Center, Life Care Center of Aurora, Life Care Center of Littleton, Life Care Center of Stonegate and Villa Manor Care Center are each proud to be a Home of Champions – a place where champions rise, where champions grow, where champions fight and where true champions live and work.