OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – An 89-year-old Opelika woman is inspiring her community and caregivers at Arbor Springs Health & Rehab as she continues recovering from COVID-19. The east Alabama nursing home was struck by the virus in late March, with unprecedented death and illness.
So far, 20 residents have died, and at least 68 tested positive for the virus.
However, inspiring stories of survival and recovery are also emerging during the pandemic. A picture of hope outside Arbor Springs shows brothers David and Randy Royer speaking with their 89-year-old mother Ruth through her window. Ruth tested positive for Covid-19 on April 11th she remained on-site for her treatment and is getting better.
“It’s kind of an amazing story that she survived. Arbor has done a fantastic job,” shared David Royer.
There is more good news, and a recent celebration welcomed residents treated for the virus off-site back home at Arbor Springs. The east Alabama facility was battered by the virus starting in late March, with infections detected in 68 residents, including 20 who died.
While skilled nursing facilities routinely care for people approaching the end of life, the unprecedented number of deaths related to COVID-19 took a heavy toll on everyone associated with Arbor Springs. Among the residents who died were long-time residents who were members of the Arbor Springs family.
“Every death had a profound effect on us. Even though we’d seen the impact on nursing home residents in other parts of the country, we were so sad not to be able to ‘fix’ this for our families and our residents,” shared Annie Swanson, Arbor Springs’ Administrator.
Adding to the emotional toll were the employees’ illnesses. While they worked to care for their patients, Swanson says 41 caregivers tested positive for the virus. Thirty-eight have returned to work to continue the fight. While the virus remains a threat. Arbor Springs has not detected any new infections since May 1st – a glimmer of hope.
“This is a true testament to our staff’s hard work and refusal to give up and give in to this virus,” Swanson said. “They persevered even when they were uncertain or afraid or grieving outcomes that were not what we wanted. Their commitment to our residents never wavered.”
Some residents continue to actively battle the virus, at least three-quarters are now described by medical staff as being on the recovery side of the fight. The goal is to recover and restore – to residents back to where they were before the virus – which can be a lengthy ordeal.
Arbor Springs doesn’t define “the recovery side” as only testing negative for the virus. The facility uses a combination of medical criteria to identify when residents have passed the intense stage of infection. Even then, Arbor Springs recognizes that recovery can be, at best, a lengthy ordeal.
“Our goal is to recover and restore – to get them back where they were when this began,” said Cheri Place-Chaffin, director of nursing at the facility. “The virus leaves them malnourished and weak, and they don’t bounce back overnight. When they’re no longer fighting the infection, they can start the process of regaining that lost ground.”
Arbor Springs is quick to point out continued vigilance is necessary for these residents; experience across the nation has shown some people who appear to be getting better can relapse. In managing this crisis, Arbor Springs relies on its understanding of its residents, and aggressive monitoring system and lab tests to track each individual’s symptoms and health.
This system was developed by Arbor Springs’ medical team as the crisis evolved and in partnership with physicians and nurses at Elmore Community Hospital and Simpra Advantage, which offers coverage to individuals in long-term care. These partners continue to be critical allies for Arbor Springs in this fight.
“We are truly blessed with a great team,” Place-Chaffin said. “We know it takes all of us working together and that we need to treat the person and the symptoms, not simply rely on the results of a single test. This kind of monitoring helps us stay on top of what is happening with residents and be proactive in care.”
Swanson said the caregivers’ efforts were bolstered by the amazing support from residents’ families and the larger east Alabama community. “What kept us going through this hard time was knowing that people were not just counting on us but also pulling for us,” she said. “We could not be more grateful for their partnership and their prayers.”