Casey’s Pond looks to community to support seniors, staff through pandemic
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For Jack Dysart, a local musician, the venue was a little bit different. He is used to singing at various art galleries and museums around town with his band Steamboat Folk.
But on Friday, Dysart laced up his boots, grabbed his guitar and music stand and set up in a nook by a window outside of Casey’s Pond in Steamboat Springs. From there he sang songs like “You Are My Sunshine,” “Scotch and Soda” and the John Denver classic, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
The audience was 96-year-old Marion Gibson, a former school nurse in Hayden and longtime Yampa Valley resident, and Dysart was there to serenade her for her birthday.
Because of COVID-19 health protocols, Meg Gibson, Marion’s daughter, was not able to travel to Steamboat from her home in New York to see her mother for her birthday. Meg has not been able to see her mother for about a year and a half.
Knowing her mother’s love of music, Meg tried to schedule a band but having that many people together is not allowed. So Meg made a contribution to Opera Steamboat in her mother’s name, and Dysart, who is on the board of the opera, came to play.
Armed with research about songs from the 1940s, Marion’s favorite era, Dysart stood outside the window and sang into a speaker phone so she could hear it on the other side of the glass.
“I enjoy it; it’s energizing,” said Dysart after the concert. “It is just my fingers started to get cold.”
Life in retirement communities like Casey’s Pond has been upended since the start of the pandemic with most residents limited to their rooms, having meals delivered and only seeing family virtually. Still, staff at Casey’s Pond has worked hard to provide the appropriate level of care while trying to limit spread of the virus.
“I just am so grateful with the standard that they have asked themselves to maintain there,” Meg said. “They have had their issues, but it could be a lot worse, and they really have done a really good job.”
She said a nurse comes in and helps her mother with an iPad so they can speak virtually about once a week.
“(They’re) really going the extra distance to make sure that those of us that can’t see our parents are able to have some connection with them,” Meg said.
As cases in Routt County have continued to rise, reaching 725 total cases Friday, long-term care communities have also seen more cases.
A recent outbreak among Casey’s Pond residents and staff has infected more than 30 people, and two residents died. The community announced three more positive cases among staff at the Doak Walker skilled nursing neighborhood Thursday.
But like other health care providers, Casey’s Pond is getting better at finding, preventing and dealing with the virus. A previous outbreak was stopped before it spread to any residents. Staff and residents are frequently tested, and one COVID-19 positive resident started receiving a new experimental treatment option from UCHealth on Friday.
Health officials also are gearing up for the vaccine, which could be inoculating some people in Routt County by the end of the year.
A part of slowing down outbreaks requires testing staff often and sending them home when they test positive. Staff quarantines put pressure on other employees, with many of them working overtime to be sure they have enough people on duty.
“We have had staff that have picked up extra shifts because people need care,” said Melissa Lahay, director of sales and marketing at Casey’s Pond. “We have had help from a multitude of people who have pitched in to help when they can.”
Seeing various campaigns geared toward the ski season and how the community needs to rally together to “Save Our Season,” Lahay said she believed these efforts need to expand beyond just skiing.
“Really it is so much bigger than skiing. It is really supporting the people that are fighting this fight,” Lahay said. “We’ve got to do this together as a community and support those that are really those frontline workers.”
So she created her own spin on the SOS initiative to include Support Our Seniors and Support Our Staff in addition to the original Save Our Season and Stop the Spread messages. The Casey’s Pond staff is there every day to support the seniors, and Lahay said the local community should step up to support the staff.
Lahay said supporting the staff is as simple as wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and not attending gatherings. She suggested that if someone sees a Casey’s Pond employee in public, they should reach out and show their support of them.
“Just be encouraging, we appreciate what you’re doing and that means so much,” Lahay said.
Previously, restaurants have donated meals to staff, and fellow health care professionals have sent goodies like cupcakes — individually wrapped of course.
At Casey’s Pond, mitigation goes beyond wearing a mask. Employees get their temperature checked and symptoms assessed at the door. They wear various levels of personal protective equipment depending on what part of the complex they are in, and the facility has enhanced cleaning procedures.
The added efforts simply mean more work for employees. A hallway previously cleaned once a week may now be cleaned once a day or more. Bedding and gowns are washed more frequently, putting extra pressure on staff throughout the building.
Lahay said staff members have been working to support each other throughout the pandemic. During the first outbreak at Casey’s Pond in the assisted living neighborhood last spring, staff in the skilled nursing area reached out to support them. Now that the outbreak is in the skilled nursing area, staff in assisted living have returned the favor, making encouraging signs and a video to send to their colleagues.
Casey’s Pond has also had help from UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, which sent Lauren Bryan, the hospital’s infection preventionist, to help staff with infection prevention.
Family of previous residents have set up an employee appreciation fund that is divided between employees and given as Christmas bonuses at the end of the year. Lahay said donations of all sizes have been received, and donations to the fund in the name of each person who has died at Casey’s Pond since the start of the pandemic have been made.
She said residents sometimes seem to care more about the staff than they do themselves. Staff also gets what Lahay called “hero pay,” which is a bonus for each employee who is working while the outbreak is ongoing. It was first implemented during the outbreak in the spring and was reinstated during the recent outbreak.
“They have family, they are going home, they are here, they are facing the virus head on, but they are able to overcome their own fears to serve the people that we serve, which are these very cherished elders in the community,” Lahay said.
All meals are being delivered to residents, and small group enrichment gatherings and visitations are postponed.
Lahay said one of the facility’s culinary workers likes to decorate and draw fun and encouraging messages on the trays to interact more with residents without any contact.
A technology grant allowed Casey’s Pond to purchase iPad to facilitate virtual visits between residents and their families.
“Family will just call the (nurse’s) station and say, ‘Hey is my mom, busy?’” Lahay said. And staff will bring in the iPad.
For Lahay, one moment sticks out as emblematic of staff going out of their way to support a resident.
Earlier in the year, one resident was feeling lonely and was interested in getting a cat, so an employee took them to the Routt County Humane Society. The resident said having the cat gave her so much happiness and more interaction on a daily basis.
“Now she has a companion, she has purpose and she is not bored, because she has something to take care of,” Lahay said. “When she came into the community with that kitty, you could tell even with a mask on, she had a grin ear to ear.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the percentage of staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center that are vaccinated.