Program earns statewide award for saving seniors’ lives during pandemic

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ecumenical Retirement Community residents had a valuable resource at their fingertips that literally saved lives. And it was recognized as a best practice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Provided by Ecumenical’s sister organization—Country Meadows Retirement Communities—the Community Health Support Center served as a resource for seniors who tested COVID-positive and provided a place for individuals to recover in a safe space with specially trained staff prior to returning home.

Ecumenical/Country Meadows’ Senior Vice President of Operations, Diana Ponterio, left, accepts PALA’s Best Practices award from PALA President, Lisa Sikes.

Housed at Country Meadows’ campus in Mechanicsburg, the Community Health Support Center won a Best Practices Award from the Pennsylvania Assisted Living Association (PALA).

The Community Health Support Center was launched initially to support internal needs of Ecumenical Retirement Community and Country Meadows to properly cohort COVID-positive residents from its 11 campuses. The Center provided prompt and well-coordinated admissions seven days a week, a caring staff expertly trained in infection control and an isolation environment that remained homelike and addressed the unique need of COVID-positive seniors.

Country Meadows’ Senior Vice President of Operations, Diana Ponterio, left, accepts PALA’s Best Practices award from PALA President, Lisa Sikes.

“It quickly became clear that the need for a safe place for people to recover from COVID-19 prior to returning home went well beyond our needs,” says Meredith Mills, president and chief operating officer-Ecumenical and Country Meadows. “We opened the Center to seniors from other personal care facilities as well as community members to help people make a safe transition home. The Center established our organization as a valuable resource with other senior living providers as well as hospital partners.”

Ecumenical and Country Meadows campus leaders reported the Center was an invaluable resource because when a positive COVID case was identified, the person could temporarily be moved to the Center which prevented continual spread to other frail, older adults who could have died from the virus.

Mills says, “In the end, we knew it wasn’t easy to care for our COVID-positive residents onsite, and felt comfortable moving these residents to the Center where we provided a dedicated team with the precautions and protocols in place to not accidentally spread the virus to other residents and co-workers.”

Community Health Care Center Specifics

Country Meadows chose to establish the Center at the Mechanicsburg location because it consists of several wings, each with separate entrances and parking areas. This set-up was ideal to establish the Center as a dedicated, short-term unit for residents and community members to recover from illnesses like COVID-19 and flu within a home-like, personal-care setting.

The Center offered 21 fully furnished, private apartments ensuring resident and staff safety by:

  • Providing specially trained staff supporting Center residents only to prevent crossover to other areas on campus.
  • Using separate medical, housekeeping and laundering equipment and supplies.
  • Delivering meals through a dedicated staging area which were then served by the Center’s staff.
  • Offering a private entrance and parking lot used by the Center staff only.
  • Offering telehealth to consult remotely with physicians to avoid a doctor’s or hospital visit, when possible.
  • Providing a consistent supply of professional-grade personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Conducting electrostatic disinfection of common areas and using UV-C germicidal lights to sanitize the apartments, rest rooms and the common areas.
  • Installing a bipolar ionization system for the HVAC in the common areas independent from the rest of the campus as well as individual heating/air conditioning units in each room.

Delivering life-saving treatments

Once Country Meadows successfully launched the Center, staff were able to add another service, offering a cutting-edge treatment for COVID-19 onsite—monoclonal antibodies (mAb) infusion. The mAb treatment was created to reduce severity of symptoms in those infected by the COVID-19 virus. It works by imitating natural defenses instead of waiting for the body to mount its own response, attaching to and entering human cells.

Thanks to partnerships with Seniority Health and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Center staff were able to provide 105 mAb infusions to clients. Medical Director Dr. John Hopkins, Seniority Health, noted these infusions had a 97 percent success rate, helping individuals avoid trips to the hospital and minimizing serious COVID-19 complications, including death.

“The people who received the monoclonal antibodies were much less likely to die from the virus than those who didn’t,” says Mills. “The treatment was not widely available to the general public due to the difficulty in setting up the infusion process. Thanks to our partnerships, we were able to provide this lifesaving resource that other facilities could not provide.”

The Community Support Health Center remained open for approximately one year through summer of 2021 and served 186 individuals.

Mills says that as a privately owned company, Country Meadows was fortunate in its ability to be flexible and take risks to do what was right at critical times. “We kept focusing on doing the right thing and how could we do that no matter the cost. We’re independent enough that we could get around some of the red tape to do what’s right for seniors,” she says, adding, “That’s what’s exciting, because there are so many opportunities to fill these missing spots in the continuum of care. Our team worked so hard to bring together all the partners who couldn’t figure it out in their silos. The result is we saved lives.”

PALA’s Best Practices award recognizes Personal Care and Assisted Living communities who create innovative programs or unique approaches to provide the best services possible to its residents, co-workers, guests as well as the local community.

PALA is a professional not-for-profit trade association representing Personal Care Homes and Assisted Living Communities for-profit and not-for-profit that vary in size from small owners to large state and national organizations. PALA provides education, unity, advocacy and interaction with a sole purpose of raising awareness through education of the public, private, regulatory and legislative sectors.

Contact Us