In rural Minnesota, the coronavirus pandemic affected most when businesses were shut down and quarantining became the suggested course of action to flatten the curve and keep communities safe from an outbreak. On March 13, 2020, PioneerCare Center, Pioneer Cottages, and Pioneer Pointe — Fergus Falls care facilities for the elderly — were closed to all visitors with exceptions made only for cases of medical necessity.
The decision came as no surprise to Steve Johnson, whose father, Ralph (age 98), is a resident of PioneerCare. The Johnson family had previously navigated a prolonged period of separation surrounding a flu outbreak in another facility and were prepared for the unexpected.
“As the severity of the epidemic and its impact on older people became more clear it began to seem inevitable,” Steve reflected. “Early on, we had no expectations relative to how long the shutdown would last.”
It soon became apparent that accessing care facilities would be limited until vaccinations were developed and administered. The Johnson family knew safety protocols would remain in place for an extended period.
“While PioneerCare suspended visits by individuals from outside the building at that time, we recognized the importance for residents to be social and keep in touch with family,” explained Steve Guttormson, marketing and development director for PioneerCare. The staff at PioneerCare immediately began scheduling virtual visits using multiple technologies, such as Facetime and Skype.
The Johnson family credits PioneerCare for their efforts organizing virtual visits, expressing gratitude at the facilitation and creativity the staff used to help maintain important contact between residents and their families. Emailed communication and photographs were printed and delivered to residents quickly by staff, who also posted room numbers on residents’ windows so family members could have a face-to-face phone call through the window.
The Johnsons made good use of Facebook Portal devices, which they delivered to Ralph and a brother who resides at Mill Street Residence. The devices allowed family members to attend virtual family gatherings without the assistance of staff. Steve shared that when socially distanced outdoor gatherings were allowed, PioneerCare staff again provided necessary assistance by providing assisted listening devices so they could effectively communicate while wearing masks and remaining 6 feet apart.
In January, PioneerCare staff and residents received their first dose of vaccine. Today, nearly all have completed their vaccination regimens. Wishing to prevent the need for a recurrence of social isolation for its residents, PioneerCare encourages everyone to get vaccinated when they have the opportunity to do so.
“Getting these shots will not only protect residents from being infected; it will help us take a big step toward ending this pandemic,” Guttormson said.
PioneerCare is now open for visitors, a step that brought relief to the Johnson family.
“It has been a very long time for all the residents to be so isolated. Now it will finally be possible for (Ralph) to see other family members, including two great-granddaughters who were born in the middle of the epidemic.”
“As long as we can keep the virus spread under control in the greater community, we can keep welcoming our families and friends into our buildings to visit residents,” Guttormson said.