Silver Bluff administrator looks back on 2020
Lisa Leatherwood, Administrator at Silver Bluff Village, has had a unique perspective of the mayhem that is the COVID-19 pandemic — health care worker, nursing home administrator, mother.
The first thing she remembers about COVID-19, the first time it really hit home, was learning about the outbreak at a long-term care facility in Washington State. It was one of the first places in the United States to experience an outbreak, in February 2020, and Leatherwood particularly remembers the press being hard on the facility.
“The press was not kind to the facility and not knowing what was going on, you think about, well, is this a fair assessment of what they were doing or are they being overly harsh for them?” Leatherwood said.
Before the shutdown began in North Carolina in early March, Leatherwood’s daughters were on spring break from UNC Chapel Hill, and the family took a trip to Savannah — the last one they’ve had in the year since.
“I remember being in that beautiful place, and with my family and then realizing ‘OK, I’ve got to get home and shut things down there.’”
Silver Bluff was already taking important precautions. The facility had restricted visitors other than immediate family members about one month prior. Then, on March 13, it stopped visitation completely. From that point forward it was the constant change that made running a long-term care facility so difficult during a pandemic, Leatherwood says.
“It’s just constant, constant worry,” she said. “Are we doing everything? Are we doing everything possible? Are we missing anything? Just constant concern for the staff, concern for the residents, physically, emotionally the whole bit.”
Not only was there the physical, mental and emotional stress of trying to make sure residents and staff are guarded against the virus, as a leader, Leatherwood had the added pressure of keeping a smile on her face regardless of circumstances, reassuring everyone that everything was going to be OK. Even when she wasn’t sure herself.
When Silver Bluff had its outbreak in July, the facility couldn’t get enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), testing mechanisms were not yet rapid and were difficult to come by, and it wasn’t yet clear what medications and treatments you could give someone suffering from the coronavirus. In addition to caring for an aging population, much of her workforce was older. Several people working at Silver Bluff were forced to leave the workforce for their own health and safety. She estimates that over 130 residents contracted COVID-19 and at least 80 staff members.
Leatherwood said it was support from the community that helped everyone, including herself, at Silver Bluff get through this difficult time. The encouragement from community members helped the staff that did stay, rally together and support one another. One letter, from the son of a woman who passed away of COVID-19 at Silver Bluff, laid it out particularly clear for Leatherwood. It read, “I don’t understand why, when the entire world has not been able to manage this virus, this pandemic, why would anyone think that you or any other nursing homes were going to be able to manage it when it got to your door?”
“I just sat at my desk and cried because it is true,” said Leatherwood. “And then anytime we had a survey or whatever, they would say, ‘Oh, you’re doing everything well,’ then why can’t we get this other control?”
According to Leatherwood, once the technology caught up with the problem, Silver Bluff has been able to keep cases under control. With enough PPE and available rapid testing, staff have been able to mitigate spread of COVID-19 within the facility.
Silver Bluff has vaccinated 92 percent of all residents and 77.5 percent of all staff. Some families of residents do not want their family members to be vaccinated, and Silver Bluff has had to defer to that wish.
The learning curve has been a steep one during this pandemic. Leatherwood and her Director of Nursing have been through several state-mandated trainings. Following the outbreak in July, staff sat down with Haywood County Health Department officials to walk through everything that happened at the facility from the very beginning of the outbreak. The result? Silver Bluff staff and health officials learned a lot about the real-life applications of the guidelines and procedures that were laid out early in the pandemic.
But, this far into the pandemic, with almost all residents vaccinated at Silver Bluff, visitation rules haven’t changed. Residents still cannot congregate together, something Leatherwood hopes will change soon.
“My residents are frustrated, you know, if they’ve all been vaccinated, why shouldn’t they be able to hang out together?” said Leatherwood. “I have four residents who, the only reason I got them to take the vaccine is they were used to being able to play poker every Friday night. And they had a doctor’s order, they could each have a beer while they played. They haven’t been able to do that for a year. How do you play poker when you have to wear a mask and you have to stay six feet apart? They’ve all been vaccinated, why should they not be able to sit at a four top table and play poker?”