Oaknoll Retirement Residence was voted Best Assisted Living Facility in Little Village’s 2020 Best of the CRANDIC awards.
“My whole heart is at Oaknoll and in assisted living,” said Jaclyn Craig, a registered nurse manager at the Iowa City retirement residence. “We work really hard, and we are all like a family and a team here.”
The last eight months have been particularly challenging for staff and residents at long-term care facilities because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led facilities to make difficult decisions regarding limiting visitors, activities and other restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
The Iowa Department of Public Health is reporting that 164 long-term care facilities are currently experiencing outbreaks, as of Wednesday afternoon. A facility is listed on IDPH’s dashboard when it meets the state’s definition of an outbreak: three residents testing positive for the virus within 14 days.
But the number of long-term care facilities with an outbreak might understate the spread of COVID-19. In last week’s White House Coronavirus Task Force report, it was noted that nearly 70 percent of Iowa’s long-term care facilities have had at least one staff member with a confirmed case of the virus.
“The weight of this pandemic is enormous for people who work in long-term care,” Oaknoll Administrator Kim Bergen-Jackson said. “Our staff are getting tested three times a week voluntarily. We’ve had nobody quit their job. Nobody even complains about it because they know that they’re vital to come to work and they must remain free of this virus.”
“I don’t think people understand the depths of what’s going on,” Bergen-Jackson added. “… I don’t think people think about it if a nursing home, for instance, … goes into outbreak testing, that means that we’re going to have to test people who have dementia, who have no idea what we’re doing. That’s something that we don’t talk about — we don’t talk enough about the fact that we’re testing people for a virus and they don’t understand why we’re sticking a swab up their nose … or why they can’t see their family. It’s hard.”
Oaknoll Retirement Residence began closing down and imposing restrictions on March 8 when the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Iowa, which happened to be in Johnson County.
The facility has been able to keep the virus out of the building, but it’s still been “emotional” and “a rollercoaster,” Craig said, adding that the staff is doing everything they can to make it less isolating for the residents.
Bergen-Jackson has been updating families twice a week, adding that it’s “all about communication and letting everybody know what we’re doing, how we’re doing and what’s next.” This time of the year is particularly challenging with the holidays coming up, Bergen-Jackson said.
“It’s hard to ask somebody not to have Thanksgiving with their 97-year-old father,” Bergen-Jackson said. “I can’t guarantee that there will be another Thanksgiving for some of our residents, and I feel that pressure every day.”
“I’ll never be able to thank the families for understanding why we’re being so careful.”
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Bergen-Jackson said a “light at the end of the tunnel” is recent discussions about vaccination possibilities. Biotechnology companies Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as Moderna, have filed for authorization of their respective coronavirus vaccines, which could be distributed as early later this month.
An independent panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted on Tuesday recommending that residents and employees of nursing homes and similar facilities should be the first to receive the coronavirus vaccine, in addition to health care workers, the New York Times reported.
Bergen-Jackson and Craig both emphasized how dedicated and hardworking the staff has been and how proud they both are of their colleagues.
“It’s 24/7 for all of us,” Craig said. “We come here and we go home, and we’re all in it for the residents and to keep them healthy and safe.”
Hearing that Little Village readers selected Oaknoll as the best assisted-living facility in the CRANDIC means a lot and is a “testament to everything that we do here every day,” Craig said.
Bergen-Jackson added that the facility strives to be the best and hopes residents, staff and families to think so too.
“We want people to be happy when they’re here and feel like they’re at home, so that’s what I feel like when I hear that we were picked to be the best,” Bergen-Jackson said.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 289.