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 Nashoba Valley is one of many skilled nursing facilities that has been gravely impacted by the pandemic. On March 28, 2020, the facility reported 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 109 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.
“What I didn't expect was that at the same time I was fighting to keep my residents and my staff safe, I also had to fight a battle with some local officials, the media and politicians,” said Amy Lamontagne, who was the executive director of the facility at the time, in her published Op-Ed piece. “While many were in the comfort of their offices and homes, my staff and I were risking our lives on the front-lines of this fight. Shame on [the media]. Their game of blame and shame has demoralized staff and placed residents at even greater risk. They have perpetuated misinformation that has been repeated both in local and national news stories and has been used as a political platform. My staff, residents and their families watch the news. The false and misleading stories have complicated our lives tremendously.”
The Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley 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 25 precious residents, as well as a co-worker. When you are a healthcare provider, you understand that your highest priority is to care of 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 allowed discouragement to make a home in the hearts of the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley team.
It was evident that the pandemic had taken a huge toll on the associates, so Amy and her 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.
“It was really scary, but we felt the heat mostly when our residents started dying. When we had the first death, and we found out she died because of COVID-19, it broke our hearts,” said Agnes Kaimachiande, certified nursing aide for more than 20 years at the facility. “It’s hard to lose anyone. When we come to work, we’re looking forward to taking care of [our residents]. We’re looking forward to talking to them. When we were hit by [the virus], everybody was like, ‘Is it my turn tomorrow?’ It was so scary for me, and I had to take a week off because my husband is high risk, but after giving it serious thought, I felt guilty. It was like running away from people who depended on me to take care of them, so I had to come back to work. If you had been there for them when they were healthy, stay there with them, fight with them to see that they pull through whatever comes.”
Agnes recognizes her peers who stayed during the hard times as champions. Agnes is a champion herself because she had a difficult decision to make; a decision that is not for the faint of heart. She is proud of the path she chose because the residents she serves were given care that was necessary for their survival.
“The passage of time brings context and clarity of facts to what happened at Nashoba Valley,” said Zo Long, Northeast Division vice president. “What is clear is that the virus ravaged the entire state, not just the skilled nursing home industry. What is also clear is that the work done by associates at Nashoba Valley and at all our Massachusetts facilities deserves high praise, not criticism.”
The facility planted a memorial tree and plaque in honor of the 25 residents and one associate 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 Nashoba Valley is taking every measure and precaution to assure their residents that they will not waver in the fight against the virus.