Local Catholic nursing homes face days of uncertainty and hope as pandemic persists, but see joy as family visits renew

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PROVIDENCE — The dedicated days for those working at local nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic are full of anxiousness, caution and concern. As staff navigate the unknown, they do so while working diligently to make sure those they serve each day truly feel safe and loved.
Families throughout Rhode Island and across the country have been eager to reunite with their loved ones after months of limited contact during the coronavirus crisis. In early July, the community of St. Clare-Newport looked forward to welcoming back visitors to their facilities — by appointment and with the proper precautions such as masks, outdoor socializing and screenings. But after only a few days of some normalcy, St. Clare-Newport had to cease visitation immediately on July 11, after one positive test result among staff came back.
The home immediately had to revert to the highest level of vigilance, which means no visitors and only medically necessary appointments and end-of-life visits. Mary Beth Daigneault, administrator of St. Clare-Newport, said that it was heartbreaking to have to call up family members to say they could not come to visit.
Since then, St. Clare-Newport announced on Sunday, July 19, that the home was informed that the one positive testing employee was indeed negative. Unfortunately, the test was one of the 113 false-positive COVID-19 test results that was part of the East Side Clinical Laboratory event that was reported on Friday, July 17.
In addition to the original swab being retested, another swab was performed and it too tested negative. Daigneault was happy to share that St. Clare-Newport is again able to reopen to visitation.
Daigneault told Rhode Island Catholic that the home is in constant contact with the Department of Health to make sure they have the most up-to-date information and guidance.
“They have assured us that the nursing homes are being prioritized. We are just trying to stay ahead of the curve and keep people safe and well. Our staff are working hard, they are showing up every day, trying to make sure that the residents feel safe, loved and looked after.”
“It’s a long summer so far, and I think it’s going to continue to be a long summer and fall. It feels like we take one step forward and two steps back. We are trying to make sure we are doing the right thing.”
In North Smithfield, the staff at Saint Antoine Community also carry a tremendous “weight of responsibility” to be vigilant at all times — not only at work, but also in their home life.
“The Leadership Team at Saint Antoine Community has placed great emphasis on the importance of making good choices inside and outside of work and to be mindful of how their choices can impact the safety of the residents they care for,” said Melissa Smith, director of marketing and communications.
At this time, Saint Antoine Community is COVID-19 free. Although the staff has been diligent to follow every state-instructed measure, Smith shared that there is still the looming possibility that the unwelcome virus can enter the community.
“It is imperative that the Leadership Team at Saint Antoine continue to enforce strict guidelines — for the continued safety of our staff and residents,” she said.
On Wednesday, July 15, and for the first time in four months, visitors were welcomed back to the Residence and The Villa at Saint Antoine.
A glimpse inside the visitation process includes: A pre-reservation for limited appointment slots, a thorough screening process — including a signed waiver, temperature check and hand washing — a maximum visit time of 30 minutes, assigned seating, six feet of separation and no physical contact. Also, a face covering must be worn by both parties throughout the duration of the visit.
“Opening visitation was not an easy process to facilitate and it took several weeks to strategize the safest plan to reconnect our residents with their loved ones.,” Smith said. “Ultimately the planning process required a lot of trust, teamwork, and tissues. Needless to say, the visits were a success and although everyone’s smiles were covered with masks, you could see that our residents were overjoyed to reunite with their loved ones.”