Rivergate Health Care Center
Rivergate Health Care Center

Rivergate Complex – care and compassion in the time of COVID-19


06/25/2020
Heidi Pino

Since July 1971, Rivergate Complex in Riverview has been a vital part of the community.

The campus comprises two nursing and rehabilitation centers – Rivergate Health Care Center and Rivergate Terrace. Both provide nursing care, long-term care and therapy services (physical, occupational and speech therapies), and both have been seeing the amazing caring spirit of associates continuing to care for patients in the time of COVID-19.

Nursing homes throughout the world have been hit hard by the pandemic, which takes a higher toll on the senior population and those with existing health conditions. But nowhere else perhaps is true heroism seen as in this setting, and rarely has the bond between patient and caregiver been stronger.

As the pandemic spread throughout the United States, Rivergate Complex took proactive steps, re-emphasizing infection control protocols (such as handwashing) and re-educating staff in using personal protective equipment (such as face masks). Even before the governor’s orders, the facilities were restricting visitors to only end-of-life situations, physicians and needed medical professionals.

Sujata Chaddha, executive director at Rivergate Terrace, had just started in her position when cases started being seen in Wayne County. She had previously been a health care consultant in the area and had been impressed with the quality of care she had seen at Rivergate.

“People know that it’s a quality long-term care facility,” Sujata said.

Despite all the precautions, Rivergate Terrace got its first COVID-19 case.

 

Left to right: Connie Ranville, director of nursing at Rivergate Terrace; Michelle Peeper, executive director at Riverview Health Care Center; Sujata Chaddha, executive director at Rivergate Terrace; and Oana Jecu, director of nursing at Rivergate Health Care Center  - photo by The D Profile, used with permission

It was a similar situation at Rivergate Health Care Center.

“All of a sudden, we had a resident test positive,” said Michelle Peeper, executive director there. “We were trying to stay ahead of it as much as we could.”

Residents and staff came down with the coronavirus, and the pandemic took its toll as several residents, many of whom had underlying health conditions, passed away. Associates and even fellow residents have been mourning their loss along with their family members, even as the campus continues to care for its residents.

Personally, Michelle has seen this as a challenge unlike any she has faced before.

“I served in the U.S. Army,” she shared, “and this pandemic has been more difficult.”

At both buildings, residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were separated from the rest of the resident population. Associates who tested positive stayed home until the CDC guidelines for recovery were met.

Communication has been vital, both with residents and their families and with staff.

Daily town hall-style meetings have helped associates stay united and keep up with CDC guidelines updates.

Technology has played a large role in the communication efforts as well. Phone calls and text messages to families and associates have helped keep both informed, and associates have worked with families to set up times for video chats with their loved ones.

“We have two iPads and seven Amazon tablets that we are using,” said Sujata. “We are doing Skype calls, FaceTime and the regular phone calls.”

At Rivergate Terrace, associates even put the residents’ room numbers on the outside of their windows so family members could find them easily for window visits.

 

More associates at Rivergate Complex – photo by The D Profile, used with permission

“The residents always felt like we were part of their family, but over the last few months probably this is the only family they have seen,” Sujata said. “It’s the staff that has been providing that support and love and care to the residents, making them feel that even though their blood families have not been able to come and see them, we are all together in this. I think the bond between the residents and the staff has seen new heights. That is very evident from the fact most of the staff did not try to take time off unless they were sick.”

At Rivergate Health Care Center, Michelle shared that associates in all departments have stepped up to do whatever needed. For example, several therapists have not only been providing rehabilitation but also serving in other departments that needed a hand, including on the weekends. A nurse who told Michelle she was scared to work in health care during the pandemic also said she was still going to follow her calling as a nurse and provide care for the patients.

“There is such a strong core of passionate people who work for Life Care,” Michelle said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group.”

But even strong teams need support, and Rivergate Complex has benefitted from daily communication with Life Care’s corporate clinical leaders and the regional and divisional leaders, as well as tremendous support from the Downriver community itself.

“There has been a lot of support from our community, especially our health care partners,” said Sujata. “Our fire department and police department in this area stopped by several times to drop off PPE.”

“People have just stopped and dropped things off,” Michelle shared. “The community support means a lot.”

At the end of the day, all the efforts have been about the residents, and they also expressed their appreciation.

Rick Ines, a resident at Rivergate Terrace for the past two years, said he’s felt cared for throughout the process and hasn’t gotten bored.

“They’ve provided me with all kinds of materials for my creative outlet,” Ines said.

Fellow resident Robert Cushion, who has called the facility home for three years, shared, “When you’re in the same thing, you float with the boat.”

And Lorena Debolt, a resident at Rivergate Health Care Center for six years, shared, “I like living here because everyone is so good to us. From the top to the bottom, the staff are great. They are always cheerful, smiling and willing to do anything for us. I feel the staff is helping me through this time by teaching me how to do things on my own and assisting me in walking better.”

Lorena has kept busy sewing, painting, coloring and even decluttering her room.

“I miss my family, but I stay in contact with them via phone,” Lorena said.

 

Rivergate Health team members, left to right: Crystal Sirdan, assistant director of nursing; Michelle Peeper; Oana Jecu; and Elizabeth Pongracz, ADON - photo by The D Profile, used with permission. Not pictured: Kristen Adams, ADON

The pandemic is unlike anything America has faced in a long time. But in the darkness, the light of human valor shines clearly, especially at Rivergate.

“Nothing has fazed us from providing the care and the love to our residents that we always have been known for,” said Sujata. “Our staff has done whatever is needed. Many of them have put their own needs on the side, their own family needs on the side, and they have been here to take care of our residents, day in and day out.”

Michelle added, “What’s stayed consistent is people’s driving compassion. Even when they’re tired from working lots of shifts, they’re still here. I have learned their passion and willingness to do what needs to be done in these buildings. That is the positive side of this story.”

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