Diakon statement on preparedness for COVID-19
Pennsylvania and Maryland (Friday July 10, 2020)
Updated July 10, 2020
Diakon Senior Living Services (see below for Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries status):
Pennsylvania has released guidelines for the phased “reopening” of nursing homes and personal care centers. These guidelines are extensive and require universal baseline testing in both nursing care and personal care centers. Diakon currently is in the process of that testing among staff and residents in its nursing care centers, a process that will be completed before July 24. In addition, Diakon has developed plans for similar testing in its personal care communities; that testing must be completed by late August.
While we understand family members are looking forward to seeing loved ones in our nursing care and personal care centers, our ultimate responsibility is to the health of those residents and our staff members. We therefore are working diligently and comprehensively to make sure our plans for phased re-openings meet state guidelines and our own commitment to the well-being of everyone.
As background information, the state’s restrictions are 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.
All Diakon senior living communities focus 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).
There are some news reports about potential national shortages of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Diakon currently is not facing any such shortage and reviews its inventory of PPE weekly as part of our focus on ensuring the safety of our residents and staff members.
(Please view our continually expanding list and photographs of just some of the ways we, our partners, our supporters and the wonderful communities in which we serve are making the world a little more ‘normal’ for our dedicated staff members, residents and clients ...
... plus, see Diakon’s corporate medical director, Dr. Dillard Elmore, interviewed by CBS News on nursing home response to the pandemic.)
Diakon has several senior-level COVID-19 task groups that meet by conference-call several times a week to discuss changes in status, provide updates and review supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), negative-pressure rooms and areas, communication, best practices and plans for reopening. Those groups also review any potential staffing concerns and will redeploy clinical or related staff as necessary to meet local needs. One group includes 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.
In terms of communication, Diakon meets CDC and state-level guidelines. 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.
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 is using 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 and express our deepest condolences to family members. These residents are remembered by first name during a weekly online gathering of staff members, a devotion led by the Rev. Mark Wimmer, Diakon Church Relations & Ministry Partnerships.
- 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 craft implementation strategies to assist with 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. Please see this document for more information.
Diakon leadership has been working 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:
- Diakon Adult Day Services in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, will reopen under Pennsylvania Department of Aging guidance, July 6; Diakon Adult Day Services in Hagerstown, Maryland, remains closed but is developing plans for a phased re-opening.
- Diakon Community Services in various Pennsylvania counties, including senior community centers in Schuylkill County, closed. However, re-opening plans are being developed and will be announced when they become available.
- 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, have moved to telephone support.
- Living & Learning programs in Schuylkill County are being offered virtually, although a few classes are beginning the first week in July.
- Diakon Family Life Services is offering behavioral health care services through tele-health, as well as some on-site appointments.
- Diakon Adoption & Foster Care is fully operational but continues to providd 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 now open and operating using CDC physical-distancing guidelines and supporting students remotely as necessary. The Center Point Day program is providing summer programming with a phased approach and safety measures in place. The Turning Point Day Program in Lancaster also is providing summer programming with a phased approach. In addition, the York PREP Program is currently accepting referrals for an Aug. 1 restart.
- Diakon Youth Services’ community-based programs are operational, although staff members are observing all recommendations for distancing; staff are working to support at-risk youths within the program.
As background information, here is a summary of initial Diakon responses; 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.
Please revisit this page, as we update it regularly.
If you have any questions related to Diakon and its preparedness, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In March, Mark Pile, Diakon president/CEO, 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 ...
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.