Staffers of the Hillsdale County Medical Care Facility said they see “a light at the end of the tunnel” from COVID-19.
According to Terry Esterline, head administrator for the HCMCF, the facility has gone eight weeks without a positive test from a resident.
“Periodically the staff will have one member at home from family exposure, but rarely from exposure from the facility,” Esterline said.
As vaccinations are rolled out across the country, the HCMCF’s staff is focusing on allowing in-person visitations again. They have to wait until the COVID-19 positivity rate in Hillsdale County is below 10% of the COVID-19 positivity rate of the county’s population.
“Right now, the number is below 10%, but we have to wait for a final notification to begin allowing in-person visits,” Esterline said. “We’re looking at scheduling Monday, but it could change overnight. The big focus is getting back to normal.”
The facility is performing more than 600 COVID-19 tests a week, according to Esterline. The staff is tested twice a week, residents once a week.
The biggest challenge for HCMCF, according to Esterline, is vaccine distribution.
“I believe that the federal and the state are doing a good job of getting it out, but everyone wants it yesterday,” Esterline said.
The staff and the residents have both received the Moderna vaccine, although a few residents declined to be vaccinated. The HCMCF used Walgreens from Ann Arbor, who came to the facility and administered the vaccine. According to Melinda Marry, director of nursing for the HCMCF, the last vaccination gave out over 200 vaccinations.
“All the residents that elected to receive the vaccine have had both doses with minimal side effects, some injection site soreness, but only for 24 hours or so,” Esterline said
Esterline and his staff placed an emphasis on education about the vaccine.“There was lots of vaccine education for the staff, residents, and family members,” said Esterline.
Under half of the staff received the vaccine, which Esterline said was about the national average.
“We were hoping for a higher percent, but that was optimistic,” Esterline said. “Our number is right about the national average of staff who accept the vaccine.”
There’s an increasing belief that vaccines will soon be directly sent to medical facilities like HCMCF, which Esterline said would help greatly.
“It would alleviate a lot of concerns about if we accepted a resident after we had the first dose and they had not been vaccinated,” Esterline said.
The patients are doing well, according to Laurie Newell, Life Enrichment Director.
“We go room to room, we ask them how they’re doing if they have any concerns,” Newell said.
“We’ve got good responses from them. They’re very exhausted with COVID, but they’re content. We try to keep them busy, we see them two to three times a day not counting the nurse visits.”
The residents still play bingo and do crafts, and during the Christmas season, the staff members got the residents dressed up and took them to the living room one by one to take photos in front of the Christmas tree to send to their families, according to Newell.
“That was really important for them,” Newell said. “They felt like it was something that COVID couldn’t take away from them. They could still do something meaningful for their families.”
“COVID has affected their wellbeing, as it has for all of us, but I truly believe they are as good as they can be under the circumstances,” Newell said.
In addition, the Life Enrichment staff have still been conducting window chats and Facetime calls, Newell said.
“I don’t expect those to ever stop, because it’s a way for people who live a distance away to see their loved ones,” Newell said. “It will never be the same as being in front of them, but it’s the next best thing.”.
Marry said the nurses emphasized staying positive with all the negativity concerning COVID-19.
“We see a light at the end of the tunnel now,” Marry said. “Most of the residents received the vaccine so they have a feeling they’re going to get through this.”
Esterline said he is excited to allow in-person visits again, but aware that the positivity rate for the county could change rapidly.
“It’s been a journey, that’s for sure,” Esterline said. “I’m talking like it’s over, which it certainly isn’t. But it’s nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”