Page updated July 6, 2021
“[Staff members] worked hard and bent over backwards to keep [residents] safe and make sure staff was tested frequently and [necessary] restrictions were in place.” — an independent living resident.
Diakon Senior Living Services (see below for Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries status):
By the end of March, Diakon had concluded initial vaccination clinics for residents and staff members; additional ones occurred as available after those first clinics; see this page for more information. Diakon now offers vaccinations to new residents and staff members on-site.
In-person family visitation:
Visitation has resumed at all locations, with many senior living communities now offering broader visitation times with safety precautions in place. See the various individual visitation pages linked below.
Historical background: Following extensive preparations and adherence to guidelines, Diakon Senior Living Communities reopened for limited family visitations earlier last fall. However, based on federal and state guidelines, visitation was suspended in most locations as test results indicated positive cases of the virus that can cause COVID-19 disease. As of March 2021, family visitation began to reopen but closed at various times as individual cases arose. New federal and state guidelines have been met and are posted on our websites; again, see the visitation-information pages for each Diakon Senior Living community, links to which are shown below.
All Diakon senior living communities continue to perform required testing based on government guidelines; staff-testing frequency (such as twice-weekly, weekly or monthly) is based on the positivity rates in the county in which the senior living community is located; frequency of resident testing is based on any current positive cases in that senior living community. We are constantly monitoring and complying with relevant requirements (see the listing below for local positivity-rate-based test schedules, updated weekly).
In addition, information found on each of the following links details the status of family visitation at that particular senior living community, as well as responsibilities for visits and an online method to reserve visitation times, if available:
- Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
- Cumberland Crossings, Carlisle, Pennsylvania
- Diakon Senior Living – Hagerstown, Maryland
- Frey Village, Middletown, Pennsylvania
- Luther Crest, Allentown, Pennsylvania
- The Lutheran Home at Topton, Pennsylvania
- Manatawny Manor, Pottstown, Pennsylvania
- Ohesson, Lewistown, Pennsylvania
Staff-test schedule based on local positivity rates:
Up to 4.9% - Test monthly
Between 5& and 10% - Test weekly
10% or greater - Test twice Per Week
Local guidelines updated Sept. 10; all counties now at positivity rates below 3%. Actual testing schedules may differ based on cases in a senior living community; see the linked chart below. That means a positive case may require a community to do testing weekly even if the county positivity rate requires only monthly testing.
- Union County (Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village) - Weekly
- Cumberland County (Cumberland Crossings) - Weekly
- Dauphin County (Frey Village) - Twice per week
- Lehigh County (Luther Crest) - Twice per week
- Berks County (The Lutheran Home at Topton) - Weekly
- Chester County (Manatawny Manor) - Weekly
- Mifflin County (Ohesson) - Weekly
- Washington County, Maryland (Diakon Senior Living – Hagerstown) - Weekly
State guidelines for the phased “reopening” of nursing homes and personal care centers were extensive and required universal baseline testing in both nursing care and personal care centers. Diakon completed that testing and developed related policies and procedures. All of that information is listed on each senior living community’s visitation-reservation page.
We certainly understand that family members have looked forward to seeing loved ones in our nursing care and personal care centers, yet our ultimate responsibility has been to the health of those residents and our staff members. We therefore have worked diligently and comprehensively to make sure our reopening plans met guidelines and our own commitment to the well-being of everyone.
As background information, restrictions were part of what is called a “three-pillar” approach to protecting older adults:
- Protecting residents through testing, education and resources.
- Preventing and mitigating any virus outbreaks.
- Partnering with state agencies, health departments and senior living community operators to address any continuing issues.
From the beginning of the pandemic, all Diakon senior living communities have focused on maintaining the health and safety of our residents and staff members. We follow federal guidelines and recommendations related to COVID-19, as we have done since the beginning of the pandemic, including restriction of visitors to health-care and personal care/assisted living centers. We have an internal medical group that provides medical oversight of practices in our senior living communities; in concert with our senior living operations and clinical staff, as well as all CDC and Department of Health recommendations, that group has developed evolving guidelines for staff members to follow in caring for residents and one another. Among key strategies is the zoning of our nursing care centers and cohorting of residents based on test results or regular contact with those outside the center (for example, those leave the community for dialysis treatment or chemotherapy).
Diakon reviews its inventory of PPE weekly as part of our focus on ensuring the safety of our residents and staff members.
(Please view the brief stories, anecdotes and photographs of just some of the ways we, our partners, our supporters and the wonderful communities in which we serve helped to make the world a little more ‘normal’ for our dedicated staff members, residents and clients, particularly during the earlier months of the pandemic.
Diakon has senior-level COVID-19 task groups that meet by conference-call frequently to discuss changes in status, provide updates and review supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), negative-pressure rooms and areas, communication, best practices and current status of family visits. Those groups also review any potential staffing concerns and will redeploy clinical or related staff as necessary to meet local needs. These sessions typically have included our external partners such as Morrison Community Living (culinary and housekeeping services) and Genesis Rehabilitation to make certain everyone is working effectively together and maintaining appropriate levels of readiness and caution. Diakon also monitors the positivity rate in each local county to make certain our testing of staff members conforms to federal guidelines.
Diakon meets CDC and state-level guidelines for communication. We have processes in place to notify family members and responsible parties for residents in our health-care and personal care/assisted living centers in the event of ...
- A new confirmed case of COVID-19 disease among either resident or staff member, or
- A new incidence of a group of three or more residents or staff members with respiratory-illness symptoms.
In addition, family members and other responsible parties receive a weekly summary of status in any affected health-care centers including cumulative number of cases, recoveries, discharges and deaths. All of these notifications occur via email or letter and, occasionally because of circumstances, telephone calls.
Beyond required state and other governmental notifications, our processes include electronic and direct (though physically distanced) communication to staff members related to any incidence of COVID-19. We also inform independent-living residents of general status at any affected campus, in some cases employing on-site communication channels or a printed/emailed newsletter.
In addition to training, Diakon has used a series of educational messages via email and its mDiakonnect mobile app to keep staff members focused on infection control in their personal lives, including any travel plans.
Current status of cases:
- Because state departments of health are now listing all health-care center cases by county or facility, as well as cumulative numbers, our chart page includes links to those sites. If we find any discrepancies between our numbers and those on the state charts, we work with the state to determine the reason (for example, in some cases a state notation of “fewer than 5 cases” may in fact mean there are 0 cases). To reduce any sense of discrepancy in number, we include the state links; we follow all state and federal case-reporting guidelines.
- Diakon’s chart of active cases is updated regularly.
- Diakon staff members grieve the loss of any resident who has passed away during the pandemic and express our deepest condolences to family members. These residents have been remembered by first name during online gatherings of staff members.
- As noted in the chart, some Diakon senior living communities have had positive-testing staff members who, after a period of self-quarantine and in accordance with CDC and state guidelines, have returned to work. We celebrate their dedication to our residents!
- If you have any questions about our chart or any response, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We continually focus on strengthening our infection-control plans. In addition, family members and others may wish to know our policies and plans in terms of both “cohorting,” zoning and testing, particularly in light of media interest in testing.
Diakon leadership has worked diligently since the crisis began to monitor and maintain adequate supplies of PPE that we believe will be needed, including disinfectants, surgical masks, N-95 masks, gowns, face shields and so on. As most health-care providers have experienced, that process has had its challenges but at this point we believe we have sufficient supplies to meet current needs. We continue to focus on making certain we have the critical safety equipment staff members need.
As noted above, information on any confirmed or suspected cases among senior living community residents or staff members or partner-vendor staff is distributed to residents and family members or responsible parties, in accordance with timing and other requirements established by federal guidelines. Governmental guidance is that anyone exhibiting any type of related symptom is to be treated as a “person under investigation” (PUI) for COVID-19 and we are acting accordingly. Any positive-testing residents who remain in a Diakon health care center are cared for in contained areas, per medical orders; staff who work in those areas are wearing the appropriate PPE including N-95 masks. In addition, negative-pressure areas can be used as indicated.
Staff members who are confirmed positive or who are considered PUIs self-quarantine at home, in concert with their personal health-care provider, and remain in that setting until considered safe to return to work under federal and state guidelines. HIPAA regulations prevent us from providing information on individual cases.
Again, if you have any questions, please email email@example.com.
Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries:
- The pandemic, unfortunately, resulted in the permanent closing of two Diakon Adult Day Services centers, one in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and one in Hagerstown, Maryland. Because there was no way to reopen or maintain service at a sustainable level, even in the foreseeable future, leadership staff made the difficult decision to close both adult day services programs in late November of last year.
- Programs within Diakon Community Services in various Pennsylvania counties reflect various statuses. Please see their websites for details.
- Meals on Wheels in Schuylkill County remains active and has elicited additional volunteer support.
- Some services such as APPRISE health-insurance counseling, provided by Diakon in five counties, early moved to telephone support but in many cases have returned to physically distanced face-to-face sessions.
- Living & Learning programs in Schuylkill County were being offered virtually, but have reopened, following safety guidelines.
- Senior community centers in Schuylkill County have reopened, following safety guidelines.
- Diakon Family Life Services offers both in-person and tele-health behavioral health care services.
- Diakon Adoption & Foster Care is fully operational but continues to provide both information sessions and training programs virtually.
- Diakon Youth Services programs based at the Diakon Wilderness Center near Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, had been affected by school closings. However, the Wilderness Center is open and operating using CDC physical-distancing guidelines and supporting students remotely as necessary. The Center Point Day program provided summer programming with a phased approach and safety measures in place and is now offering fall school sessions. The Turning Point Day Program in Lancaster also provided summer programming with a phased approach. In addition, the York PREP Program opened Aug. 1. All Diakon Youth Services’ community-based programs are operational, with staff members observing recommendations for precautions.
As background information, here is a summary of initial (2020) Diakon responses from the beginning of the pandemic; overall, Diakon has taken extensive measures in response to the global pandemic related to COVID-19.
- We immediately instituted all procedures recommended by both the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, including disinfecting surfaces, hand-washing, use of Personal Protective Equipment in cases in which that was recommended by regulatory agencies, as well as other precautions.
- On March 13, we instituted visitor restrictions in our senior living communities.
- We altered senior living dining services to avoid communal dining situations and to conform to guidelines requiring social distancing.
- Diakon expanded all staff precautions, which in addition to those noted above, now include screening both before and after a shift is completed.
- The Diakon Medical Group is overseeing a task group developing guidelines for practice if any residents test positive for the coronavirus.
- An overall operations task group meets frequently to review current practices and update any actions affected by recent recommendations. That group also works closely with such vendors as Morrison Lifestyles and Genesis Rehabilitation Services to coordinate extensive precautions in both rehabilitation services and housekeeping and culinary activities.
- Messages are frequently sent to staff members and specific external groups noting our precautions, planning and responses. Among these actions are the launch of a new employee app, email blasts for our senior living communities, an external email to donors and other partners.
- We are using social media such as Facebook to disseminate content to various audiences, especially family members of residents in senior living communities. Those communities have been very active in providing content about residents to share with family and friends.
- Diakon Human Resources is monitoring staff patterns and has developed plans to deploy staff such as those in Ministry Support to assist the senior living communities in case large numbers of staff members are unavailable because of illness.
- We are actively working with suppliers to make certain we have the necessary equipment and supplies to deal with the crisis. Like many health-care and social-service providers, we are dealing with concerns over potential shortages of Personal Protective Equipment.
- Although everyone shares anxiety over the situation, staff members are exhibiting a positive spirit in making sure we continue to serve those in need.
- Our more-than-150-year ministry of service to people in need continues, despite the challenges we face ... just as it has during that century-and-a-half.
If you have any questions related to Diakon and its preparedness, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In March of 2020, now-retired president/CEO Mark Pile sent the following message to staff members:
To call these times extraordinary would be an understatement. But to call your amazing response to the changing environment extraordinary would not be understatement. You are sustaining Diakon’s mission to care for people in need.
You will undoubtedly receive many messages each day, on topics as diverse as updated admissions practices or in how we and our residents dine or hold meetings, but there is one brief message I want to make certain you hear and keep in mind.
And that is my—and our boards of directors’—deepest appreciation for the outstanding work you are doing in the midst of this outbreak, ensuring vital service continues to touch the lives of people of all ages, particularly our most vulnerable neighbors.
We cannot thank you enough.
Original statement at the beginning of the pandemic ... provided as information:
As a health-care provider with extensive senior living accommodations and services, Diakon, like many organizations, expresses concern about the spread of COVID-19 (or novel coronavirus) and its potential impact on those we serve and those who care for them.
Because the situation remains fluid, with new data received daily, Diakon’s response and preparation not only follow all regulatory and related guidelines but also are designed to be flexible, so that they can be adapted to changing situations.
Our key concerns, of course, are the health and safety of:
- Our residents and patients, as well as their family members
- Our dedicated staff members, who daily care for people of all ages.
While not exhaustive, here is a list of steps Diakon is taking:
- We are following guidelines of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and local and state health departments, designed to reduce the potential for the introduction of the virus in our senior living communities and programs.
- These steps include adherence to strict hand-washing policies and, when appropriate, wearing gowns and gloves when interacting with someone who may be ill, as well as extensive and enhanced disinfectant procedures. We also are staying current with any changing CDC recommendations.
- We are enhancing entry procedures for our senior living communities and posting notices that provide information to visitors on the symptoms of COVID-19 and requesting that they not enter the building should they be experiencing any of these symptoms.
- We are in regular communication with our key vendors for such services as rehabilitation, culinary services and housekeeping to coordinate precautionary measures and potential responses to such factors as enhanced disinfecting, change in food procurement and staff shortages. In addition, we are monitoring our supplies to be sure staff members have the resources they need to care for residents and patients in a safe manner.
- We have plans in place to deal with changing staffing patterns or staff availability and to make certain that staff members who could be affected are adequately supported in terms of the personal impact an extended absence could have on them.
- We are working closely with all referral sources to monitor admissions so that we do not accidentally introduce the virus to our often-frail populations.
- We are enhancing clinical support and education to staff members to keep everyone abreast of changes in the situation and necessary precautions.
We are fortunate to have an in-house medical practice, the Diakon Medical Group, whose geriatric-focused physicians and certified registered nurse practitioners are well-educated on the virus and are extending our concern for resident health and safety. The group’s senior executive acts as Diakon’s overall medical director even on campuses that other physician groups serve.
We also believe it’s important to help educate everyone on CDC recommendations. Among them are the following, which also help to stem or slow the spread of germs that also cause other respiratory illnesses such as the flu or the common cold:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces including your mobile device.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid close contact with others if you or they are at risk for COVID-19 or other illnesses.
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
In addition, The World Health Organization has distributed an alert about coronavirus-themed computer phishing attacks that impersonate the WHO or other organizations and try to steal confidential information and deliver malware. Similar phishing campaigns impersonating other health, government, business or other organizations are possible, so remain vigilant about any forms or emails that request personal information.