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Yellowknife seniors home increases preparedness to keep COVID-19 out, and morale up

A seniors centre in Yellowknife has ramped up efforts to keep COVID-19 out while attempting to keep morale high.

Visitor restrictions have been in place at Avens since March 17

Avens — A Community for Seniors, provides housing for independent seniors, dementia care and palliative support in Yellowknife. The centre says all equipment and frequently touched areas are wiped down rigorously and often. (Submitted by Avens)

A seniors complex in Yellowknife has ramped up efforts to keep COVID-19 — which has broken out in several Canadian long-term care facilities — from infecting its residents while attempting to keep morale high.

Avens provides housing for independent seniors, dementia care and palliative support in Yellowknife. The complex, which has beds for 57 people, has been on lockdown since March 17. 

It's one step the not-for-profit organization, which is funded by the territorial government, has taken since confirmed coronavirus cases in Canada began rapidly increasing.

"Everyone's feeling a lot of stress … There's a lot of fear," said Frances Bower, Avens director of care. The facility is among nine long-term care homes in the N.W.T.

Avens began implementing COVID-19 interventions the week of March 9, said Bower. Health authorities announced the N.W.T. 's first confirmed case on March 21.

"The reality is that could happen anywhere," said Bower, referring to outbreaks at other seniors facilities that have resulted in deaths and staff getting sick.

"It's about monitoring and reducing risk," said Bower, about protecting Avens's residents. "We're trying to keep them in that bubble."

Avens began implementing COVID-19 interventions the week of March 9, said Frances Bower, director of care. (Submitted by Avens)

Avens is taking a number of precautions to keep the virus from penetrating. 

Staff are required to practice physical distancing at home. They change out of their street clothes and into fresh work clothing in an infection-controlled locker area.

Deliveries, including food from families, are sent to a controlled drop-off point. 

Staff and residents get their temperature taken daily and other health assessments.

Precautions inside the facility

Residents of the long-term care facility can no longer mingle with those in the territorial dementia facility.

Seniors who have shared common-spaces for years, such as living rooms and dining areas, can still do so, provided they aren't sick or showing symptoms, said Bower.

In the long-term care facility, residents continue to eat across from each other at tables in the dining room, she said. All equipment and frequently touched areas are wiped down rigorously and often.

Any resident who shows symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19 would be isolated, said Bower.

WATCH | Avens CEO shows us around Avens and what they're doing to keep COVID-19 out:

Avens CEO Daryl Dolynny shot this video to show how staff are trying to keep COVID-19 out. 0:40

In the event of an outbreak, she said, Avens has an estimated two to three weeks' worth of supplies, including personal protective gear.

"I'm comfortable with what we have," said Bower, who notes Avens is continuously sourcing out more supplies. 

Staff are only required to wear personal protective equipment if they are caring for someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is suspected to have a respiratory illness, said Bower.

I love coming to work every single day knowing that even though with all of this happening ... I know that we could still put a smile on their face.- Carol Norwegian, Avens staff member

None of the residents were showing symptoms as of Friday.

Bower said she joins daily calls with the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority and other long-term care facilities in the N.W.T.

Keeping morale up

Bower says the facility is among nine long-term care homes in the N.W.T. (Submitted by Avens)

Along with keeping COVID-19 out, the other big focus is keeping morale up.

"I am so proud and astonished of everybody that is pulling together," said Carol Norwegian, recreation volunteer supervisor at Avens. 

Without volunteers, staff have been taking on extra work to keep programs running since the lockdown.

Norwegian now leads a modified Sunday church service in areas where smaller groups of residents live.

Staff help residents use social media, like FaceTime, to connect with family.

"They've really enjoyed that. It's definitely brought tears to our staff as well seeing the families connect," she said. 

Finding joy

There's also laughter.

Last week an Avens staff member decked out in a sun hat and glasses, and delivered made-to-order banana splits to the residents and staff. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Last week a staff member, decked out in a sun hat and glasses, delivered made-to-order banana splits to the residents and staff.

"It was a breath of fresh air," said Norwegian who said keeping morale up is critical for everyone. 

"I love coming to work every single day knowing that even though with all of this happening ... I know that we could still put a smile on their face."

For Susan Mercredi, the lockdown at Avens has been a relief. Both her parents, who are in their 80s, live there.

"I was thrilled, actually almost to tears," she said about seeing Avens' COVID-19 preparedness plans in action. 

Speaking about sickness and deaths at other long-term care homes in Canada, she said, "I just can't even imagine what those families have gone through in those situations."

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