We are safe, we are well, and we are together: Spring Lake Ranch Operations During Covid 19
Rachel Stark, Director of Operations
For the last twelve years I have traveled with my sisters and mom to some warm destination the first two weeks in March to recover from the VT winter and rejuvenate for the upcoming spring. For the last ten of those years, the destination has been Sanibel Island where we do nothing but laze about watching the sea, soaking up the sun, and reading everything we can get our hands on. Every four years we end up spending a fair amount of time talking politics as the weeks we are away coincide with Super Tuesday. This year though, we had a surprise – the hot topic was not Super Tuesday but the blooming concern of the novel Coronavirus. By the second week, we were sufficiently alarmed that we convinced my mom to cut her trip short lest she get stranded and have to drive all the way home to Fairport, NY.
Good thing I was well rested, since upon my March 16 return to home and office on the hill, the outlook was unnerving and rather scary. I was immediately inundated with information and plans which had been brewing well before our Governor issued the stay-at-home order. Our Executive Director, Brain Hanson, was well ahead of the curve!
As always, the first order of business was protecting our community. We immediately stopped all off-hill trips for both staff and residents and simultaneously moved our Royce Street clients back to the hill. The very same day we reviewed each staff role and the necessity of commuting to the hill. The staff that could be asked to work remotely were and when necessary, new computers were quickly purchased and configured to enable them to work from home. It all was abrupt and unsettling for the staff as we are so very tight knit; we value each other, the setting and, being “in the community.” Several willing staff moved onto the property – including two clinicians and a dog! Though 21 staff ended up working from home, our programming actually increased and intensified as therapists added groups, residents created their own, and continuous creativity was sparked between the on and off-hill groups.
So, with our community set we next needed to assess how best to keep from adding any contagion to life on the hill. We stopped all visitors, including resident’s families, and all were very understanding. Vendors too were asked not to enter the premises, and drop-off stations for packages were set up outside. Some of our vendors too experienced difficulties and several of our weekly deliveries temporarily ceased (toilet paper, hand soap – yikes!). Luckily, we always have extra on hand and we just became a bit more mindful about usage… just in case. Linen service was also interrupted for several weeks so Shop Crew stepped up to the plate, washing aprons and linens.
Hand sanitation stations were set up through the main house and green house, and a refresher course on proper handwashing was given at morning meeting. Staff also had extra training in this regard just in case and signed up to help sanitize the building four times daily. Meals saw a change as well. Lunch, by far the busiest, was split into two shifts and all meals became served by staff volunteers to reduce cross contamination. That doesn’t stop folks from getting seconds – although it now requires a new plate!
Staff have to self-screen before coming to work and sign off that they have done so. If there is any sign of illness, then that individual stays at home on paid sick leave until they are well. Fortunately, we have been blessed with nothing more than a few colds.
To prepare for all scenarios, we did set up Elliot House for quarantine. We shifted the residents and staff living there to other houses so that Elliot is ready to go if needed. We have a dedicated group of staff volunteers who offered to help care for those that get ill by delivering food, medications, and personal items as needed.
Five weeks in and Covid free, we felt ready to start up admissions again. We plunged back in with a full week of three new admissions, all consisting of folks who had been quarantining patiently at home – we also added negative Covid test results to our admissions criteria. After each passed the test, they were dropped off by their mask-wearing families. We couldn’t do our usual tour and orientation for the families. but for the most part they were just grateful we reopened admissions and their loved ones were safe and in the community.
These are unprecedented times and it’s been a whirlwind of activity, learning, and change but through it all one thing that has never wavered is the community’s ability to flex and rise to the occasion. We are resilient.
Of course, it hasn’t been easy. The remote staff have struggled to maintain connection with the staff and residents on the hill. Being away from the community is the toughest of all for them as so much of the staff’s energy is amassed by being together, as well as witnessing the residents’ journeys. Sure, they are Zooming team meetings and check-ins, and finding other creative ways to stay connected, but as I’m sure all of you know by now, it’s just not the same as being there. And let’s be honest, tech is not always our strong suit.
The brightest light emerging from this is the creativity and the attitude of the residents themselves. In my 13 years at SLR, I have never seen such gratitude for being here, such creativity in evening and weekend activities, and such kindness when someone is struggling. It is humbling and it is miraculous. And when any of us start to get tired or miss our friends, coworkers, and families, we need only to just watch and listen – listen to the laughter in the dining room, the music from the living room, the shouts of victory from the basketball court, to the sounds of spring. We are safe, we are well, and we are together. We raise our heads, put one foot in front of the other, and move forward together as the world works to right itself.