COVID-19 seemed to take everyone by surprise this year. The international and domestic response appeared to be somewhat disorganized and, at the very least, reactionary. Despite historical precedent, like the 1918 flu pandemic, the overall feeling was that most organizations were not prepared for a situation like this. How did we fare at The Maplewood? Was our staff prepared for a virus that appeared to be unstoppable?
We took a straightforward approach to preparing for COVID-19. Our team started researching coronavirus symptoms, treatment and prevention even before there were cases reported in the US. We also had the benefit of being able to rely on a healthy stockpile of medical supplies and other necessary items. Unlike department stores that aim to minimize the amount of goods they keep on hand using “Just-In-Time” inventory methods, we treat our supplies as an investment in resident health. That mindset, coupled with taking the virus seriously from a very early point in the pandemic, allowed us to respond quickly and effectively to news of local cases.
Knowing that resident safety had been given the necessary consideration meant our team could also put significant energy into maintaining resident quality of life. When changes (like social distancing) became necessary, we took a “do things right the first time” approach, making it clear that quality of life was a top priority. It lead to a different type of problem solving than just taping up signs and delivering microwave meals to resident rooms. How the response played out at The Maplewood is best seen in these three areas of care: environment, socializing, and dining.
Nursing home residents rely on the staff to maintain their rooms and the rest of the building. This might not seem important at first glance, but imagine if a light bulb went out in your house and you had no way to fix it. It would be incredibly discouraging to stare at the dark corner in your room, knowing that all it needs is a new light bulb. You can rest assured that we keep all our light bulbs in good working order, but COVID-19 brought new attention to how our environment makes our residents feel. They were relying on us not only to keep them safe, but to do so in a way that didn’t leave them discouraged our fearful.
The early days of the pandemic brought a flood of new rules. That left the whole nation surrounded by printouts at every turn. Gas stations, grocery stores, and every other establishment that remained open turned to the humble 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper to communicate the myriad of new regulations and requirements. It seemed like there was a sign taped to every door in the country.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a taped-up paper sign, but it communicates more than just the words printed on it. It clearly shows a lack of professionalism and a lack of attention to detail. It may as well have a footnote stating “This is not a professional sign.” That might not be an issue at a gas station, but it chips away at the level of excellence that a nursing home must maintain.
We knew that our residents were relying on us to keep Maplewood looking its best through the pandemic. While other organizations seemed to approach the COVID-19 situation as a temporary issue to be addressed with taped-up signs and tables placed in front of doorways, our team wanted to make it clear to residents that they were taking things seriously.
Laminated signs were the first step, followed by an effort from the graphic designers and other team members to ensure that you would see a first-class attention to detail wherever you looked in the Maplewood. The result was better than anyone had hoped. Not only did it communicate to residents that their home was being seen to with the utmost level of care, but it also encouraged all of our staff members. There was no doubt in our minds that we were all doing our part to keep residents both safe and happy.
Everyone felt the pressure of social distancing weighing on them as the pandemic progressed and society moved through the various stages of lockdown. While many people were able to quickly turn to digital tools like FaceTime and the now-ubiquitous Zoom, seniors in nursing homes were unlikely to have the necessary skillset for that. Nursing home residents were also known to be at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19, which meant that they needed to avoid contact with anyone outside of the staff taking care of them.
This meant seniors were facing prolonged isolation without viable tools to combat loneliness. They needed to stay connected with their families and loved ones, but without any of the dangers of in-person meetings. Our team knew we needed to step in to improve the situation, so we started defining the problem and brainstorming. Video chatting seemed to be the obvious solution, but there were unique challenges involved. We started by making some IT upgrades (even more bandwidth, new laptops, etc.), and then worked to figure out how to help our residents use the devices.
The solution was to schedule video chats as if they were face-to-face appointments. This allowed us to assist residents by operating the laptops for them, and it also made the chats something to look forward to. The other benefit was that family members could more easily schedule calls into their day. A planned call every evening is much better than spontaneously calling a loved one and hoping that they’re not in the middle of exercising or eating a meal.
Each part of that process took significant effort, but the result was worth it. Our team members were able to work out the kinks with families so that they could use whatever devices they already had to video chat with their loved ones. Fun and lighthearted conversations echoed into the hallways just like they had before the pandemic. Walking through Maplewood sounded almost like things were back to normal, even in the middle of the most intense parts of the lockdown.
We pride ourselves on our dining. Residents and their family members could often be seen enjoying a meal together in one of the several dining venues. COVID-19 made that impossible, so dining had to be totally reimagined for the lockdown. As planning got underway and we all put our heads together, one thing became apparent: the problem was heat.
Picture the average restaurant on a normal weeknight. All the tables are grouped together in a big room, and none of them are more than a 30-second walk from the kitchen. That’s on purpose—getting hot food to a table before it gets cold can make or break a meal. Nobody wants lukewarm soup! Residents needed to be able to eat in their individual rooms, but their rooms were all spread out. A few were near to the kitchen, but most were not.
The easy answer to this problem would have been to make the food in the kitchen, put it on a cart with a heater, then wheel it out to the rooms. While that prevents hot food from getting cold, not everything on a dinner plate should be hot. Sautéed chicken breast and a fruit salad should never arrive at the same temperature. We started looking at ways to get everything to the room at the right temperature.
The solution was a hybrid approach: meals were partially prepped in the kitchen, then finished right outside resident rooms. Our dining team created a mobile chef station that could be wheeled throughout the building. This allowed residents to order from a limited menu and get their food right as it was made. Hot food stayed hot and cold food stayed cold. The solution worked marvelously and residents were delighted. This level of effort might seem excessive just to improve the temperature of food, but good food brings us all a unique type of joy. Delicious meals were all the more important for residents who were sequestered in their rooms.
Staying prepared for a variety of scenarios kept us in good shape to deal with COVID-19, and gave our team the time and resources to maintain a high quality of life for our residents. Assessing the risks of the pandemic before it even made it to US soil meant we had ample time to respond to the various government directives. This in turn meant that we could fine tune any changes to the daily rhythms of life at The Maplewood. The question became “what is the best way to make this change” instead of “what’s the fastest way?” and the results were extraordinary. Our residents maintained the best semblance of normalcy to be expected in a global event with such far-reaching impact.
Maintaining such a high quality of life for the most vulnerable population could only happen with the right priorities in place, and a great team to act on them. Staying prepared, looking ahead, and having a “do things right the first time” mentality kept us all on the right track as we worked through the challenge of a lifetime. The easy way out of a difficult situation is always to cut corners, but we knew that was simply not an option. The pandemic brought into sharp relief how important it is to put resident wellbeing first, and to make every decision with their best interests in mind. Thanks to all the hard work from our team, our residents are doing remarkably well and have been able to stay healthy, live their lives in comfort, and enjoy some innovative events.
See The Maplewood’s Family Car Parade