Diakon statement on preparedness for COVID-19

Pennsylvania and Maryland (Wednesday March 25, 2020)

Originally posted March 7; most recent update March 25

March 25 Update

Here is a summary of Diakon responses and changes to date; 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 have since altered senior living dining services to avoid communal dining situations and to conform to guidelines requiring social distancing.
  • Several Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries programs were affected by governmental-imposed restrictions including: 
    • Diakon Adult Day Services in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and Hagerstown, Maryland, are currently closed.
    • Diakon Community Services in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, including senior community centers and tax preparation services, closed.
      • However, Meals on Wheels 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.
    • Diakon Youth Services programs based at the Diakon Wilderness Center near Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, were affected by school closings. Staff continue to work to support referred youths to make certain they are safe and receiving needed supplies and information.
    • 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 during stay-in-place orders.
  • Diakon has 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.

Earlier updates, provided as information

March 13 Update on Senior Living Services visitation restrictions:

Because the COVID-19 virus appears to have the greatest impact on those older than 60, particularly people with underlying health conditions—which describes many of the people Diakon serves daily in our nursing and personal care centers, as well as community-based senior programs and rental-subsidy housing—we must take additional steps to protect the health of our residents and the staff members who care for them.

Effective 8 p.m. March 13, we are restricting for 30 days public and family access to the health care and personal care/assisted living centers on our senior living campuses, as well as restricting leaves of absence by residents. In some cases, this restriction may also have an effect on access to independent living accommodations, if those apartments are integrated within the health-care facilities on the campus.

We do not take this step lightly, especially knowing that older adults in health care centers depend on regular contact with family members. But the safety and health of our residents and our staff members must be paramount. And there are other ways, including telephone, social media and online platforms such as Skype, though which contact can be maintained.

Several points need to be emphasized:

  • An exception to the visitation restriction is being made for families with patients who are experiencing a significant decline or change of condition at the end of life; we recognize the importance of family contact during this difficult period. This stage may be different from situations in which less-intensive service, although still termed hospice care, is provided. 
  • The time the visitor restrictions are in effect may change, based on the situation at that time and federal recommendations. We hope we will not need to keep the restrictions in place for the entire 30 days, but there is also the possibility the time could be extended, given the situation then.
  • Our action is in keeping with recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and state health departments.
  • The health of staff members is being screened, per recommendations. Only Diakon staff members whose presence is deemed essential are at our senior living communities.    
  • March 18 update: Dining arrangements are changing in response to precautions and federal regulations. More information on changes in the senior living communities will be posted shortly.
  • Diakon staff members, including the corporate medical director, continue to monitor conditions and recommendations in relation to mitigation efforts and potential response in terms of caring for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19.  

March 16 update: 

In compliance with regional directives and our own steps in light of the COVID-19 virus, Diakon Adult Day Services at Manatawny, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, is closed, effective immediately, for the next two weeks. In addition, as of March 17, Diakon Adult Day Services at Ravenwood, Hagerstown, Maryland, in response to a state mandate, is closed as well. We apologize for any inconvenience but the health and safety of our clients and staff members must come first.

March 17 update: 

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.

March 18 update: 

While continuing to provide Meals on Wheels in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, other Diakon Community Services in that county and a number of other counties have reduced or canceled programming. See the Diakon Community Services website and its various sub-pages for specific programmatic information. Staff of Diakon Community Services expresses deep appreciation to its long-term volunteers and several new groups of volunteers who are helping to make sure meals are delivered to those in need. In addition, in relation to the temporary closure of senior community centers in Schuylkill County, center participants who requested home-delivered meals are receiving them.  


Original statement ...

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.

Please revisit this page, as we update it regularly.

If you have any questions related to Diakon and its preparedness, please email info@diakon.org.