Residents, staff at Casey’s Pond persevere through pandemic
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Don Paul is tired of being cooped up in his room.
He was one of the first residents at Casey’s Pond to test positive for COVID-19.
“I didn’t know I had it,” Paul said. “I feel as sick as I ever did — that’s why I’m here. I don’t know any difference between having the virus and not having it.”
Asked if he’s recovered, Paul said, “I don’t know — I’m still locked in a room.”
Technically, Paul is listed as one of the three residents who have recovered. But he’s tired all the time, he said, and has trouble breathing — just like he felt before he was informed he had the virus.
Paul is also 97 years old, sharp, perhaps a bit sardonic and always up for a good laugh. And he’s a World War II veteran. If he makes it to June 3, Paul jokes, he will be 98.
While Routt County numbers continue to show a decrease in new COVID-19 cases, new data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows a huge increase in deaths among residents in long-term care facilities due to COVID-19.
The state reported 632 positive COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities on April 15. A week later, that number had jumped to 1,274 cases.
On April 15, data from the state showed 49% of Colorado’s COVID-19 deaths were tied to long-term care facilities, while less than 8% of all COVID-19 cases were connected to those type of facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted living centers and other types of residential care. As of April 25, deaths at long-term care facilities now account for 40% of the state’s total COVID-19 deaths.
In Routt County, 100% of the COVID-19 related deaths — four total — have been at Casey’s Pond.
Obviously, these facilities house society’s most vulnerable populations in terms of age and age combined with underlying health conditions.
However, with stringent policies in place well before they were mandated by the state and a rapid response to the first positive test through the aggressive mass testing of residents and staff at a time when testing resources were in very short supply, Casey’s Pond Executive Directory Brad Boatright views Casey’s Pond as a success story.
That is not to minimize the loss of four people, but, when looking at what has happened at long-term care facilities across the state and country, it could have been a lot worse. The numbers could be higher.
And the testing — and retesting — of residents and staff continues.
They were even able to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus, among both staff and residents.
But despite the strict and extensive screening measures in place every day for every staff member who enters the building, mass testing is the only way to identify asymptomatic carriers.
As of Monday, 10 staff members have tested positive. Four are already out of isolation and listed as recovered, and three more will be released from isolation this week, according to Boatright.
A total of nine residents have tested positive. Four died, and three have recovered.
The virus has remained restricted to the assisted living section of Casey’s Pond, which is home to about 40 residents. The virus has not been detected in the other care levels, which includes independent living, memory care and skilled nursing care, Boatright said. The assisted living staff does not work in any of the other care levels.
For the Casey’s Pond community, Boatright emphasized the four people who died are not just COVID-19 statistics. They are family.
“We know their families. We know about their grandkids. We know about their professions. And that’s what we think about when we think about them,” Boatright said. “We are not mourning a loss from a virus. We are truly celebrating a life — that’s what we do as a community at all times.”
The losses, Boatright said, are not about coronavirus. It’s about knowing that person and thinking about them and sharing memories.
For someone who reaches 100 years of age, “that’s a wonderful life,” he said.
“We are honored to serve people in what many describe as the last chapter of their lives. We often witness amazing discoveries that older adults make in finding new purpose and passions in life once their professional responsibilities are complete,” Boatright said. “We continue to honor those who have passed due directly to the COVID-19 virus, and we do not want the pandemic to rob them of that special remembrance. We don’t want people to be reduced to a number.”
Boatright attributes the containment thus far to the help with testing from the Routt County Public Health Department, as well as the total diligence of team members to follow all protocols.
“Without a doubt that stops the spread,” Boatright said. “The residents have also been excellent in following the isolation orders.”
And, the community’s response outside the walls of Casey’s Pond in taking measures to help stop the spread is also a contributing factor, he noted.
Boatright said the larger community has not been critical or placed blame. Area residents have done the opposite, he said, in terms of an outpouring of love and support for the residents, staff and organization as a whole.
“We want to thank the Routt County and Steamboat community from the bottom of our hearts for the support, well wishes and prayers,” he said. “From the donations of masks and gowns to dropping off individually wrapped snacks and cards to the window-side concerts.”
It has been a trying time for everyone, Boatright acknowledged.
“Residents haven’t been able to accept visitors for months,” he said. “They also can’t participate in the usual classes and activities, and they no longer dine together.
“One thing that has not changed is our sense of family,” he added. “We are a community built on solid relationships. Coronavirus changed how we build those relationships and critical connections, but it has not stopped our sense of community, togetherness and care for one another.”
Residents play bingo from their doorways and participate in sing-alongs. Staff does everything they can to maintain some connectedness amid isolation. Residents are brought books, puzzles, music and activities depending on their individual interests and requests, Boatright said.
Paul has been watching a lot of television — anything with action
“To get your mind off of what’s going on,” he said.
He’s watched a lot of Gunsmoke and is enjoying horse races and football games — though he doesn’t really care who is playing.
More than anything, Paul wants to go outside. He doesn’t like confinement. To him, walls are just something to protect a person from bad weather.
Without a doubt it has been hard on the residents, Boatright said, but he describes them as “the most understanding and gracious group of older adults who truly care for one another and for the team.”
“I cannot say enough about them and what they are going through every day,” Boatright said of the Casey’s Pond team.
They need to be supported and stay positive to make it through this, he said, urging the community to continue to rally around those frontline workers.
One of the lessons Boatright learned from watching outbreaks in other states was the importance of transparency.
“We ensured we had a system of transparent and timely communication, which includes letters, website updates and recorded call alerts,” he said. “We created a family hotline number just for families to call, and we have worked hard to ensure residents and families needing support with connections through technology have a way to request help.”
In terms of fear among residents of getting sick, Boatright said residents consistently say they are more worried about the staff members getting sick than themselves.
Asked why he thinks he survived the virus at 97 years old, Paul said, “it’s because all the spots in the cemetery have been taken.”
But amid his wisecracks about waiting around to die, Paul sees silver linings. Not so much for himself, but for the world as a whole.
“With so much fighting, now we have to pull together to fight a common enemy — the virus,” he said. “We have a goal.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Twenty months after the South Routt School District announced it would close because of a burgeoning coronavirus, COVID-19 is more prevalent in South Routt than ever before.