When residents at Oakmont of Valencia Senior Living went into lockdown in mid-March amid rising fears of the coronavirus, their lives changed drastically, but it was the staff who took on the challenge to make those changes manageable.
While it’s now been three weeks since the community has had an active case of COVID-19, staff worked tirelessly to care for residents through the more than two-month-long quarantine.
It wasn’t long after Oakmont’s traditions director Stephanie Funderburg was placed in the center’s COVID unit to oversee and care for sick residents that she made the decision to move her kids to their grandparents.
“My exposure to (COVID-19) and long days and nights spurred that decision,” she said. “It was an extremely tough decision since I did not know how long all this would last and when it would be safe for them to return home.”
She spent more than seven weeks away from her kids, and FaceTime became her best friend in staying in touch with them.
During that time, she missed her son’s 11th birthday in April and spent her first Easter away from them.
“The hardest was when my daughter Savanna, 9, called crying just wanting to see her mommy,” Funderburg added. “It was very difficult, but my kids are at the age (that they) know that what I was doing was for my residents and helping save lives.”
However, it’s been the sacrifice of all of the Oakmont staff, not just hers, that she says has made it possible.
“Our staff and residents were scared,” Funderburg said, “(but) with such a strong management team and support from our home office, we were able to act quickly.”
Wearing personal protective equipment, or PPE, became their new normal and adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Public Health’s guidelines quickly began to feel like second nature, Funderburg added.
“(At) Oakmont, the standard of care has always been high, (but) it went higher because of the … regulations for COVID-19,” added Rita Akpenyi, a licensed vocational nurse at Oakmont. “Just like any health care provider, it was overwhelming (at first), but Oakmont provided more than needed to staff to fight covid.”
Daesung Suh, a maintenance assistant at Oakmont, says it was great to see staff get to work immediately to execute the plans and procedures.
“Everyone pulled together to get through this,” he said. “Teamwork is essential, (as is) having good leadership that takes care of staff and residents.”
Many of the staff agree that these increased safety measures are just some of the necessary changes that needed to be made to keep both themselves and residents safe.
“The changes that have been implemented through Oakmont’s management group have been amazing, as they continue to follow all CDC guidelines, yet make life for all … residents comfortable,” added Marshall Johnson, a traditions care provider at Oakmont.
For Diana Serrano, a concierge at Oakmont, these changes have also helped her to feel secure and confident in coming to work.
“This is an unprecedented time and since we’ve never experienced anything like this, I was definitely scared of the unknown,” she said. “COVID-19 has challenged the world to rethink the way we do things. I am proud of the efforts that my team members and I have made in order to provide a safe and healthy environment for the Oakmont community.”
As concierge, Serrano would typically be greeting visitors and assisting residents, but now, she works to ensure each team member is following proper safety procedures when arriving each day.
“(The virus) has heightened my sense awareness,” Funderburg added. “It makes you more in tune to what you touch and how often you should be washing your hands. Like I tell my team, we must protect ourselves first, so we can protect our residents.”
Both Suh and Johnson agree and say they’ve seen a change in their daily routine, which now includes having good hygiene practices at all times and an increased awareness of safety in and outside of work.
“I now have to disinfect my car daily, change my clothing before entering my home and take multiple showers a day, as to prevent crossing covid to any family members, especially my 3-year-old son who has asthma,” Johnson added.
Nevertheless, Johnson says that he’s been blessed to not have had many challenges during the current health crisis, as it’s the bonds he’s made that outweigh any challenges he’s faced.
“There are multiple rewarding parts to this career, but by far the best part is the smiles you see on the residents faces, the thank yous you receive from the families,” Johnson said. “Bonds like this are ever-lasing and will always be forever in each and every caregiver’s heart.”
All the same, most agree that having residents self-isolate has been quite a challenge.
“I feel like the residents are the heartbeat of the community and the virus changed that,” added Oakmont care provider Jacquelyn Carpenter.
Even so, Carpenter says it’s been rewarding to see the many creative ways loved ones have used to show the residents at Oakmont their support.
“Seeing the love families have shown through sidewalk chalk, window visits, cards, flowers, extra messages of love and the look of happiness on the residents’ faces,” she said. “It gives them a little bit more hope is the way I see it.”
While some residents understand that these measures are being taken for their safety, others are taking it a little harder, especially those in memory care.
“In memory care, the challenge is getting them to understand why they can not do what they used to do, like going out or to the movies,” Akpenyi said.
Through each challenge, Oakmont Executive Director Margie Veis says the staff have truly shown what teamwork and commitment to residents and each other looks like.
“Everyday they had the choice to wake up and put on their uniforms and come to work or to not. They chose to be here, even with the feelings of fear and anxiety,” Veis said. “We certainly did not sign up for it, but we came together for our residents and each other.”
Funderburg agreed, adding, “The most rewarding part of this difficult time was seeing our Oakmont community pull together through such a trying time. We have seen staff rise on every occasion possible to provide the best quality care for all our residents. They are true heroes in my eyes.”