How one Alaska long-term care facility is protecting against COVID-19

Long-term care facility residents are some of the most at-risk individuals for severe illness during the COVID-19 outbreak. This was most acutely seen at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, which emerged as an early epicenter of the disease in the United States.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) announced the state’s first case of COVID-19 in a long-term care facility over the weekend. The positive case on March 28 was a resident at the Denali Center in Fairbanks; by Wednesday afternoon hospital officials announced a third resident had contracted the disease. At that time, a total of five Denali Center employees had also tested positive.



As the number of cases grow across the state, here’s a look at how one Alaska long-term care facility is protecting its residents and staff against COVID-19:

Homer Senior Citizens, Inc. operates a 40-bed assisted living facility and 45 independent senior housing units. Keren Kelley, Executive Director of Home Senior Citizens, Inc., says the facility began preparing for the outbreak on March 3, starting with infection control.

On March 13, the day after the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Alaska, the facility suspended Congregate Meals and Adult Day Services. That same day, the facility began restricting visitors and non-health providers from entering the Assisted Living building. During this time, they began screening all employees entering the building and all staff were required to wear a mask and gloves around the residents. As of March 25, all employees must wear these items anywhere inside the building.

To address the negative impacts of isolation, Home Senior Citizens, Inc. created a “buddy phone system” for Adult Day Services participants who don’t live in the assisted living facility.

The facility has also reassigned staff to help assisted living residents maintain social distancing. Only one person is allowed to accept mail and packages for residents, and all mail is quarantined for 3 days before being distributed.

When outside of the facility, Homer Senior Citizens, Inc. has asked all employees to remain at home except if they need to go shopping, where they are required to wear a mask and gloves at all times.

The facility’s full COVID-19 plan outlines steps for infection control, actions to take if an employee or resident gets COVID-19, and crisis strategies during periods of personal protective equipment shortages.