105-year-old Dorothea Long enjoys a window visit with her family. Courtesy | Laurie Newell

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.”