Life Care Centers of America
What is Home of Champions?
Stories of Passion & Care

What is Home of Champions?

By Leigh Atherton, senior vice president for corporate and community relations

Think back to eight months ago.

Where were you when you heard the news that a mysterious virus had invaded the United States? Mass panic erupted in many states as frantic shoppers swarmed grocery stores to buy necessities to last for months. Many shelves at grocery stores remain empty to this day due to high demand of certain products. Do you remember the moment you heard the news? Stress and overwhelming fear washed over you and struck every nerve in your body because you felt like you had little to no control over the future. 2020 has turned into a year that no one will forget, but it has also turned into a reminder of what matters most.

Life Care Center of Kirkland was the first of many skilled nursing facilities to be gravely impacted by the pandemic. On Feb. 28, 2020, the facility had its first case of COVID-19. Although life became a whirlwind following the positive case, one constant remained – the associates at the facility continued to fight to protect the safety of their residents. The associates worked tirelessly to remain up to date on latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, communicating with the families of the residents at the facility and continuing to enforce infection control protocols. Not only were associates battling the virus from within the walls of the facility; they were also battling the misinformation that spread like wildfire outside it.

“On Sunday on my way to church was when we got the text,” explained Chelsey Earnest, the director of nursing from Garden Terrace Health Care in Federal Way, Washington. “They were calling anyone because so many staff were sick. I said I would be up there. I kind of expected it to be like any other flu outbreak.”

The Life Care Center of Kirkland team has uprooted their routines to safeguard the facility’s residents. While many outsiders were criticizing the facility, the associates were also experiencing the tragedy and heartbreak of the vicious virus that took the lives of 39 precious residents. When you are a healthcare provider, you understand that your highest priority is to care for the people you serve as if they were your own family member, and they in fact do become like family. As time went on, associate morale dropped because the grim reality finally settled in. Life would never be the same for them, and that realization allowed discouragement to make a home in the hearts of the Life Care Center of Kirkland team.

“Watching the patients and the families go through this was very difficult,” said Chelsey. “I would not want to do it again, but if I had to, I would. We just did the best that we could. I’m pleased with the job we did, and I think that should be recognized.”

It was evident that the pandemic had taken a huge toll on the associates, so the leadership team decided it was time to rise from the ashes. The result of this step forward was the birth of the Home of Champions concept, an internal campaign that was created to intentionally admire the heroes that walk among us every day who go unnoticed but deserve our recognition and praise.

The facility placed a permanent memorial marker in the garden outside in honor of the 39 residents who lost their lives to COVID-19. The road to being COVID-free indefinitely is long and winding, but the steadfast team at Life Care Center of Kirkland is taking every measure and precaution to assure their residents that they will not waver in the fight against the virus.

“Our team at Kirkland was the first to meet COVID-19 head on, battle it, stabilize our building and move forward, providing a safe environment and peace of mind for our residents and their families,” said Nancy Butner, a former executive director of Life Care Center of Kirkland who is now a division vice president for Life Care. “That’s the real story of Kirkland.”

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