Casey’s Pond prepares to allow visitors; pilot program begins Friday
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Casey’s Pond in Steamboat Springs is in the process of welcoming visitors back to the senior living center.
The announcement came Tuesday, the same day the Colorado Department of Health and Environment released guidance that would allow outdoor visitation at senior living centers across Colorado.
Senior living centers have been among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. At Casey’s Pond, 12 residents and 12 employees have tested positive, and all six deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the county have occurred at the facility.
Improvements, such as regular testing and changes to mitigation protocols, have allowed the senior living center to ease some restrictions. It has been almost a month since someone there tested positive for the virus. By mid-June, Casey’s Pond officially was no longer in COVID-19 outbreak status.
Before allowing visits, facilities must develop a mitigation protocol and train staff on the new rules, according to the state guidelines. Because of these requirements, Casey’s Pond is unsure when such visits could occur, according to an update from the senior living center.
Starting Friday, Casey’s Pond plans to conduct a two-day pilot period for an outdoor visitation area protected with plastic glass, according to Executive Director Brad Boatright. He said this trial period is necessary to be able to adequately welcome what he expects to be a large number of visitors when the rules allow.
By Tuesday, he hopes to expand visitation with a sign-up system similar to the way other businesses have tried to limit the number of people at one time.
When visitation opens up, guests must wear face coverings for the duration of the visit, according to the state guidelines. They also must receive a medical evaluation upon arrival and provide contact information for the purpose of potential contact tracing. Staff must monitor the visitation area and disinfect furniture between visits.
Facilities may not allow outdoor visitation if the resident or visitors are showing symptoms of the virus or if the facility has an active outbreak, according to the guidelines. If a facility has an outbreak, it must complete the required 14-day isolation period before allowing guests. The guidelines also warn that an increase in cases could lead to tighter restrictions in the future.
For many families, the visiting restrictions have been a source of frustration and suffering as they try to be with their loved ones.
Steamboat resident Danielle Campbell described an experience with her grandmother, who was staying at a senior living center in Meeker. Her grandmother Donna Hellyer, a former Hayden resident, was nearing the end of her life as the visiting restrictions were in effect. The center where she was staying only allowed two visitors to see her, Campbell said, and they had to be the same two visitors. Everyone else had to stay outside Hellyer’s room with only the window to see in.
Campbell allowed her mother and aunt to be the two visitors who could enter. As her grandmother drew her last breaths, Campbell wished desperately she could be beside her, holding her hand and offering comforting words. Instead, she stood at the window, wondering if her grandmother could hear her goodbyes and “I love you.”
“I wanted to just break down the doors,” Campbell said.
She voiced further frustration over the isolated conditions her grandmother was forced to live under during the final months of her life. In its guidance on visitation at senior living centers, the state health department acknowledged how the isolation in places like nursing homes, group homes and assisted living communities has imposed “substantial physical and mental health consequences for these residents.”
In an email, Boatright said Casey’s Pond is surveying residents and families for feedback about the future visitation protocol. He said he wants to balance their emotional wellbeing with the necessary safety precautions.
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Peak Health Alliance, a health care purchasing cooperative created in Summit County in 2018 after it had one of the highest average health care costs in the nation, is looking to expand to Routt County.