NEWARK, Ohio – It was shaping up to be another quiet evening at The Inn at SharonBrooke, as it had been for months. In the absence of visitors and the usual shift changes, comings and goings were infrequent, the parking lot gaping with empty spaces.
But now a small group of people began arriving in twos and threes, making conversation at arm’s length or greater as they converged on the circular driveway that led up to the facility’s entrance.
Shortly after 7 p.m., the onlookers were rewarded with a welcome sight: 22 mask-wearing figures emerging from the covered walkway after the longest sleepover of their lives.
They stood quietly as sirens wailed in their honor, grasping pillows and propping up rolling suitcases, watching as the group of supporters from the care facility’s development team and board members cheered and waved signs: “Thank you COVID heroes.”
They were going home.
65 days at work
Most of the group had spent 65 days living and working in the offices and halls of the assisted care facility, which closed its doors to the public on March 12 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to staff and residents. SharonBrooke’s sister facility, The Inn at Chapel Grove in Heath, did the same.
At the time, director Amy Twyman and her staff had estimated the lockdown would last a couple weeks. They asked for volunteers to stay for the duration, unaware of how long it would be; additional staff self-quarantined at their homes to step in as relief if necessary.
And so, as COVID-19 crept into the community around them, the 44 staff members and 225 residents within the two facilities remained untouched by the virus.
On Friday, at last, the staff were able to hug their loved ones for the first time in more than two months.
“It was relief and joy and happiness to see them,” said Becky Hulet, of Johnstown, who works in SharonBrooke’s dementia unit and spent the lockdown in anticipation of the day she’d be able to see her grandchildren again.
Though Hulet’s time at the facility during lockdown was briefly put on hold for a doctor visit unrelated to COVID — followed by a two-week quarantine for safety — she promptly returned to continue her service.
It was an experience she’ll never forget.
“At times it would be harder than others, but everybody just kept everybody up. Kept their hopes up, and things were good, and everybody was happy,” Hulet said. “You really don’t know people until you spend 24/7 with them.”
The lockdown worked
The facilities’ strict protocol paid off: Not a single staff member or resident was diagnosed with COVID.
Though they’ve begun cycling in additional staff, the facilities will continue their thorough decontamination protocol for incoming mail, food and other deliveries; doors are still closed to visitors.
Staff, working three days at a time, will be given regular antibody tests and have their temperatures taken twice a day, Twyman said.
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In short, they’re proceeding with extreme caution — and preparing for the possibility of future lockdowns, should the need arise.
“We’ve already talked and we’re preparing through the summer of who’s going to come in and what we’d do differently, things like that,” she said.
In the meantime, Twyman is thankful for many things: The opportunity to experience her workplace from an entirely different perspective; the community members who sent meals and cards to boost morale; the families who regularly showed up at residents’ windows to sing Happy Birthday and refill bird feeders.
The nurse who held a resident’s hand as she passed away, her granddaughter breathing farewell over the phone through a windowpane. She was grateful, Twyman said, to know her grandmother was in good hands.
“Our families could not have been more supportive through all this,” Twyman said. “We always have had great relationships with our families, but (this is) really on another level. I truly know they know we care now.
“You can say you care for your residents, you love your residents. But our residents and our families both know we truly do love them.”
Though in keeping with social distancing guidelines, staff members’ families weren’t invited to Friday’s brief celebration outside SharonBrooke, the hearty whoops and cheers from the group of onlookers combined with sirens from local police and fire vehicles made for a merry reception.
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Among the supporters was Jamie Clouse, a member of The Inns development team, which comprises members of The Jerry McClain Company, Inns Management Group and Inns Holdings. In addition to SharonBrooke and Chapel Grove, the group operates 10 homes throughout Ohio, with a 13th property opening soon.
Clouse and several others were sporting “Inns Strong” t-shirts to show their support.
“The commitment the staff members made was just a huge commitment, and we wanted to show them our support and thanks,” Clouse said. “We at least wanted to give them a little sendoff to show them we appreciate the sacrifices they made.”
Follow Abbey Roy on Twitter: @bargainadvocate
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