Monroe Care Center looking forward to hugs and smiles in 2021

Some of the Monroe Care Center staff paused in their work to take a photo last week on the day the facility reopened to visitors. Pictured left to right are Matt Padilla, Brooklyn Argenta, Ashlee Dethrow, Miranda Summers, Anna Scott, Candy Summers and Maizie Reed. Kneeling with Ozzy the dog is Director of Nursing Megan Hulbert.

One of the hardest aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic to deal with emotionally for many people was the inability to visit family members in person for the last year.

Elderly people were especially isolated from their family members during 2020 and those who lived in care centers, long term care facilities and other congregate housing had to deal with not being able to leave the premises of their homes for months at a time. At the same time they also had to deal with the fear that came with a higher risk of losing their life to the disease then the rest of the general public.

Megan Hulbert, Director of Nursing at Monroe Care Center in Albia, said that helping her residents deal with that fear and separation from their families was one of the hardest parts of the last year.

“It’s really had an effect on everybody as a whole,” said Hulbert.

Since Monroe Care Center is privately owned, Hulbert said they made their own policies around dealing with the pandemic but followed guidance from the federal government.

Monroe Care Center closed their doors to visitors on March 10, 2020 and didn’t open them back up until March 12, 2021 although there are still rules for visitors.

Hulbert said visitors are asked to call ahead so residents can get ready to see them. Every visitor has to wear a mask. They are also screened with questions and temperature checked at the door. Visits are also conducted in private rooms away from other residents. But still, people are once again able to come inside to see their family members and friends fairly freely and don’t have to rely on phone calls, the Internet or talking through windows for interaction.

Even during the year when the building was closed, Hulbert said they always allowed compassionate visits for residents and their families. At different times they also had scheduled visits as long as the guidelines they had in place allowed them. And during the summer and warmer weather, residents were able to have unlimited outdoor visitation for a short period as long as guidelines were followed.

One thing that helped residents deal with the isolation was Ozzy the dog, who moved in March 10, 2020, the day that the facility closed its’ door to visitors.

“We couldn’t have visitors so we kind of had the idea to get a pup,” said Hulbert. “It has really just kind of been a solution to make them smile cause they haven’t been able to have extra people in here. He’s just kind of become a fixture of the facility.”

Throughout the year Hulbert said staff and residents had to get used to using technology for both family visits and doctor’s visits. That is something Hulbert said was a positive.

“It’s really kind of opened our eyes to the options that are out there,” said Hulbert.

Hulbert said throughout the year, the care center saw a lot of support from the community. During Prom last year, students came and paraded outside for the residents. During Halloween kids in costumes also came out to parade for those in the facility. Residents have also received letters from children in the community and more.

“Some neighbor kids came in and built snowmen outside the windows,” said Hulbert.

She said she hoped that they could keep up a lot of those new events moving forward as well.

The staff members and residents also became very close during the year and the staff was very committed to keeping the residents safe.

“It has created such a strong bond between residents and staff,” said Hulbert. “With the families, they have had to be very trusting of us and be confident that we are doing what is best for their loved ones.”

Staff members had to go through extensive training and as more was learned about the virus throughout the year, what staff needed to do would change, sometimes from one day to the next.

“It’s really learning how to roll with the punches and adapting to everything,” said Hulbert. “I’ve just got a great team here that’s really taken charge and really stepped up and went the extra mile.”

The facility was very lucky that they did not see their first case of COVID-19 until Dec. 29, 2020. This was just one day after they began administering COVID-19 vaccines unfortunately.

All residents who tested positive were able to receive monoclonal antibody treatments. Because of the outbreak some residents who received the antibody treatment are still waiting to receive their second dose of vaccine but everyone else was able to complete the two shot vaccine process earlier this year.

One big change that has happened because of the pandemic is a general decline in residents. Before the pandemic hit Hulbert said the 60-bed facility would hover around capacity each month with some months seeing more open beds then others.

But as of March 2021 the facility had only 36 residents. Hulbert said this is the lowest number since COVID-19 began. Although the facility was open to taking new residents during the pandemic Hulbert said she understands the fear some families would have moving relatives into a care facility during a pandemic.

People would have also not known when the facility would be open to visitors again, which may have also kept some people from moving in. Hulbert said the last new resident moved in a few weeks ago.

Hulbert said that during the last year although there has been frustration and sadness, family members and residents have been very understanding as well.

“Overall the response from the community and from families and residents for the way that we have handled everything has been very positive,” said Hulbert. “There has been frustration of course, but ultimately understanding it’s to keep their loved ones’ safe.”

Hulbert said a huge part of the great response Monroe Care Center had was because of her staff.

“I’m proud of my staff,” said Hulbert. “We’ve got a good team here and they really stepped up. We couldn’t have got through the year without them.”

Thinking about 2021 Hulbert said she is looking forward to her residents being able to just be with family and friends again.

“I’m looking forward to hugs, watching the hugs and the smiles and the happy tears,” said Hulbert.