When Tony Cooper left New Market in 1996 after six years as executive director of Life Care Center of New Market, the facility was less than a decade old, but he knew the skilled nursing facility off East Lee Highway was well on its way to being a vital part of the community.
Cooper returned to Life Care Center of New Market in 2017, 21 years later, and found a facility that was firmly entrenched as a respected and valued member of the New Market community, serving residents from a tri-county area that included Shenandoah, Rockingham and Page counties.
"I was mentored to be part of the community, not just a building in the community," said Cooper, "and that is what Life Care Center of New Market is. We have built a strong relationship with the communities we serve, and that was important this past summer, when the virus came."
Tony Cooper, Executive Director
More than any topic related to the facility's battle with COVID-19, Cooper and Director of Nursing Jennifer Breeden talk about how people in the New Market community and surrounding towns rallied to support the New Market team during the most difficult days.
"The community and our families were just amazing," said Breeden, who has spent 12 years with Life Care. "No one questioned the restrictions we had to put in and even during the peak time, the families were sending in food, refreshments and calling with words of encouragement."
"They were on the outside while we cared for their loved ones on the inside. I know this: our families did a whole lot better being supportive than I believe I would have been if I were on the outside."
Jennifer Breeden, Director of Nursing
Cooper, Breeden and their team carry that positivity with them today as Life Care Center of New Market continues to provide the high level of service in long-term care and short-term rehabilitation that it is known for throughout the Shenandoah Valley.
Cooper and Breeden watched as the coronavirus attacked skilled nursing facilities and moved across the country in March, April and May. They made preparations such as purchasing additional PPE and daily monitoring of residents and associates for symptoms, while retraining employees on infection control.
Things changed on the second day of summer, June 21. An Infection Prevention and Control Assessment Team and the Virginia Department of Health were inside Life Care Center of New Market when Cooper got confirmation that the facility had its first positive resident. The state regulatory agency found no deficiencies with the facility. The Infection Prevention and Control Assessment Team commended Breeden for her infection control protocols and validated that the facility had implemented proper contingency planning with appropriate plans in place. But even that good news was lost on Cooper as he worried about what might be coming.
"It literally went downhill quickly from that day on," said Cooper.
The associates of Life Care Center of New Market came face-to-face with COVID-19 and battled it for 69 days before the facility was finally free of the virus on Aug. 29. Like nursing homes across the country, the virus spread quickly inside the facility, and a lack of access to quick testing results in the early weeks contributed to the outbreak. The heroic work of people who put their own personal safety at risk to care for their residents was easy to miss in the sorrow that came as 19 residents were lost to the virus.
"In a small town like this, everybody knows someone who is a resident here, a former teacher or ball coach, or someone who works here," said Breeden, "and that made the losses even harder. There is not a member of our leadership team who has not attended a service for one of our residents."
Jennifer Breeden, Director of Nursing
Listening to Breeden talk about a single day at the peak of the virus in July paints the clearest picture of the difficulties her team faced as they dealt with the lethal virus, one that no healthcare facility or government was prepared to fight.
"Some of the deaths in the beginning were here or there," said Breeden. "We were getting four or five positive tests, until the day we got 15 positive test results in one day. On that day, we also lost three residents, two within 30 minutes, and these were residents that we expected to pull through.
"It was devastating," she said. "We were trying to deal with that anguish and console the staff, but we had to make the choice to put our emotions aside and move to a mindset of moving these 15 residents into an isolated unit, calling families and informing residents and staff. We had to transition from grief to nurse mode in a matter of minutes."
"Every person in the building, no matter what department they worked in, got involved in doing whatever needed to be done to care for our residents," Breeden explained. "It was an incredible balancing act emotionally, and our associates diligently got the job done. It seemed like a day that would never end."
- 83 resident cases: 19 deaths, 64 recovered, 8 discharged
- 24 associate cases; 24 recovered
- First case: June 21, 2020
- COVID-free: August 8, 2020
The good attitude that the people of New Market have shown toward the Life Care facility is infectious to Breeden, Cooper and their associates. It has enabled the team there to look to the future, not focus on the past or the virus outbreak.
"It is just not something you want to mentally dwell on,” said Cooper. “Once you have lived through it, you know you don’t want to go back."
Tony Cooper, Executive Director
Instead, Cooper and his champions of care are looking forward, committed to the premier 24-hour skilled nursing care and outpatient rehabilitation services they are known for in their community. They realize that the national fear associated with COVID-19 and the skilled nursing industry has caused families to have concerns about utilizing a skilled nursing facility. They are hoping to gradually ease some of those concerns as visitations continue at the facility. And that brings us back to the bond between Life Care Center of New Market and the communities it serves.
"People here know they can trust us," said Cooper.
The Vigilance Continues
Life Care Center of New Market remains vigilant to provide a high level of service in a safe environment that brings peace of mind to its residents and their families. It's what the community expects, and it is what the champions of care at Life Care Center of New Market will continue to provide. That vigilance includes:
- Continued screening of all staff for signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including temperature checks at the beginning of shifts.
- Thorough screening processes for visitors that include watching for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, including temperature checks. Each visitor also receives detailed verbal education on visitation procedures and protocols that follow CDC and CMS guidelines.
- Thorough respiratory assessments completed daily by a nurse.
- Routine cleaning with proper disinfectants and frequent cleaning of high-touch areas.
- Ongoing communication with family members, which includes monitored outdoor visits, monitored indoor visits, window visits, texts, phone calls and FaceTime via iPad.
- Testing 100% of staff members every week for COVID-19 with results in 36-48 hours. They also have the capability to test all staff and residents multiple times per week, if necessary.
- Implementation of a Point of Care testing machine that will offer an early detection system by allowing them to test any resident or staff that develops symptoms with results within 15 minutes of the test.
- Having a full-time infection prevention control officer on staff who is licensed nurse and who will keep up-to-date infection control information and ensure strict adherence to CDC, CMS and state health department guidance. The infection control nurse will also train and monitor staff on the latest policies and procedures.
- Quarantining all new admissions and any resident who leaves for a period of time for 14 days after their entry/re-entry into the facility, allowing for observation to prevent any new introduction of the virus into the facility.
- Obtaining a negative COVID-19 test result prior to moving a resident from an admission/readmission unit onto units with the general population.
- Dedicated staffing for admission/readmission unit.
- Ensuring proper facial coverings and eye protection are worn by staff at all times.
- Ensuring facial coverings are worn by residents when leaving their rooms.
- Providing a safe environment for communal dining and communal activities that includes facial coverings, social distancing and a proper hand hygiene program.
- Encouraging annual flu vaccinations within facility for residents and staff.
Implementing and education process for residents and staff regarding COVID-19 vaccination.