December 8, 2021

Area nursing homes lock down, check staff

seniors feeding duck illustration

Senior citizens are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, and nursing homes are taking precautions to protect their residents from infection.

Nursing homes in the greater Cortland area are following measures outlined by state and federal agencies, including those required by the state Department of Health.

Since Friday, nursing homes have been restricting visitors to nursing homes to medically necessary visits and emergency circumstances, such as visits to dying residents, said Nasar Khan, president and CEO of Groton Community Health Care Center. The Groton center, which has 80 beds, is following guidelines devised by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Health and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Khan said.

“Obviously, the goal is to protect our residents because they’re the most vulnerable,” he said.

Restricting visits is key to this strategy, and Khan and other local nursing home directors ask family members and friends of residents to abide by these restrictions “unless it’s extremely necessary,” in which case requests will be reviewed.

Nursing home staff are also being routinely checked for the virus. Khan said staff at his center — all staff, including cleaning and dining staff — are checked at the beginning of every shift. They are checked for symptoms — fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath and diarrhea. Body temperatures are also checked.

“If any of these symptoms are present, we release them home,” he said.

Staff also asked if they have traveled out of the country recently or been on a cruise ship. All staff wear surgical masks if they are within 6 feet of residents.

Masks, however, are in short supply.

Khan said the Groton center has enough to last until later this week but more are needed.

He said he requested them from the Tompkins County Department of Health and from a medical vendor last week but none had been obtained Tuesday morning.

“There’s an extreme shortage,” Khan said. “We need to get more in soon. I’m very cautiously optimistic that it will happen.”

Khan said staff will shift to wearing N95 respirators if any residents are symptomatic.

Other area nursing homes are following similar state- and federally- mandated precautions.

Michael Kilmer, executive director of the Elizabeth Brewster House, an assisted living residence in Homer, which has 32 residents, said his staff is routinely “masking up” and following basic flu protocol: Washing hands, using hand sanitizer, wiping down surfaces. Staff are also minimizing contact with residents, he said.

For instance, staff typically would circulate through the center with a water cart during the day. Now staff provide sufficient drinking water to residents once a day.

“We can definitely do our best to minimize our exposure to our residents,” Kilmer said.

Restricting visits is also crucial to the strategy of protecting residents, he said.

“We’re kind of hunkering down and closing the doors and trying to keep people safe,”

Kilmer said. “No one’s coming in the building unless there’s medical need.”

The rehabilitation and nursing centers at Cortland Park and Crown Park, both of which are owned by the Upstate Services Group, are following state and federal guidelines, said Maggie Calli, administrator of Crown Park.

By following the guidelines, staff hope “that we will limit the spread of this virus as much as possible,” Calli said.

In addition, all nonessential staff are being asked to stay at home, she said.