When the COVID-19 outbreak began in March, there was immediate concern in local communities about Louisiana nursing homes and long-term care facilities. But inside those buildings, hundreds of staff members were redoubling their efforts to care for their residents.

For leaders at CCI, the most urgent needs included establishing dedicated COVID-19 sections, setting up regular virus testing for staff and residents, finding enough personal protective equipment, ensuring there was enough staff on hand each day and taking care of residents’ physical and emotional needs.

“Our staff, in the middle of this pandemic, they really have stepped up and shined. I can’t say enough about them,” said Nicole Howard, chief operations officer of CCI. “We’ve had people cancel vacations and weddings so they could stay and help. People have offered to pick up extra shifts. I’ve always known we have great staff, but this has really shown that we have compassionate and loyal people in all of our facilities.”

CCI operates seven facilities in Louisiana: Camelot of Broussard, Camelot of Broussard – Assisted Living, Camelot Rehabilitation at Magnolia Park in Lafayette, Camelot Brookside in Jennings, Camelot Community Care in Ponchatoula, Camelot Place in Rayne and Northridge Care Center in Baker.

Camelot Rehabilitation at Magnolia Park has stepped up and is one of two COVID units for CCI, and the only one in the Acadiana area. The staff in these units provide virus treatment in addition to long-term care and skilled nursing. All staff who work in these units must take extra precautions for both themselves and residents.

“They all had to get used to wearing full PPE in the COVID unit,” said Lauren Granier, administrator at Camelot Rehabilitation at Magnolia Park. “They had to overcome their own fears of the disease and push forward. I’m so proud of them. They have really stepped up. They are taking phenomenal care of our residents.”

Abby Aucoin, CCI’s regional therapy director, said her staff has had to get creative and think outside the box to continue physical, occupational and speech therapy for residents while protecting them from the virus.

“We’ve had to change our day-to-day interventions,” she said. “We’re not using the gyms as much due to the quarantine of new admissions, so there isn’t as much interaction between multiple therapists and multiple residents at one time. We’ve taken full advantage of the porches at some of our facilities and we’ve incorporated some outdoor activities for residents as well.”

Aucoin said it isn’t unusual for therapists to develop personal relationships with patients, often serving as confidantes. Those relationships have been amplified in the past few months, especially as CCI facilities have had to severely restrict family visits because of virus concerns.

“I think the biggest challenge has been not just treating them from a physical standpoint, but being there for them emotionally as well,” Aucoin said. “We’re there to be a motivation and an encouragement. CCI has been great about setting up Zoom or Facetime calls pretty regularly between residents and families, but it is a little different than having that physical touch or hug or pat on the back. For us, making sure they are in a good emotional state has been a really big deal.”

That has also been a main priority for other staff, said Margert Thomas, director of nursing at Camelot Rehabilitation at Magnolia Park. Residents must wear masks when they exit their rooms, but staff have allowed them to visit with each other in the hallways, at a safe distance.

“We’ve started having our activities take place up and down the halls,” Thomas said. “Instead of doing one big bingo session, we have numerous sessions. Residents remain in their doorways while staff members stand throughout the hall to call out numbers. The residents are all at least six feet apart. We’ll do it down one hall and then move on to the next one. We’ll do bingo or crafts or other activities, and that really lifts everybody’s spirits. We try to get them out of their rooms as much as possible and keep them entertained.”

To keep these activities going, CCI leaders had to ensure all staff had enough PPE, including masks, protective gowns, hand sanitizer and more. Howard said she and others were determined to find items wherever they could. They ordered and received thousands of N95 masks from Korea. Some staff drove to Mississippi to pick up gallons of hand sanitizer made by breweries there. Dozens of Amazon boxes arrived every week with other supplies.

“Once we sourced it and found out where we could get things, we were in pretty good shape, but it was tough at the beginning,” Howard said. “We got creative in a hurry. The National Guard ended up stepping in and we received multiple pallets from them. We are in a good place now.”

Howard said the CCI senior leadership team has provided “full financial and emotional support” to all staff and facilities over these last few months.

“They never asked about the cost,” she said. “They asked what we needed to keep employees and residents safe. We do weekly operational calls to go through any new regulations and what has changed in terms of testing. It’s really an open agenda where we let the buildings tell us what they need.”

Thomas said the entire experience has taught leadership and staff the importance of being flexible.

“You don’t make plans for the day. You make plans based on what the day brings to you,” she said. “You just have to go with the flow and take care of needs as they arise. We’ve been fortunate that our families, residents and staff have been so patient and understanding.”