Southern California’s Ararat Home Deals with Coronavirus Threat

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MISSION HILLS, Calif. – The COVID-19 outbreak has affected Ararat Home in much the same way that it has all long-term care facilities. Responding to this crisis has required implementing a series of measures to protect residents from possible exposure to coronavirus. These measures have drastically changed the operations of the Home leading to a significant disruption in the everyday lives of residents and a heavier workload for staff.

Ararat Home operates three facilities. The main campus in Mission Hills is home to Ararat Nursing Facility (a 254-bed skilled nursing facility) and Ararat Assisted Living Facility (which currently has 110 residents). The satellite campus in Eagle Rock is home to Ararat Convalescent Hospital (a 42-bed skilled nursing facility). The great majority of residents are of Armenian descent. The majority of employees are of Armenian descent.

As the number of COVID-19 cases grew in Los Angeles County in early March and the first case of community transmission was announced on March 9, Ararat Home’s administration began reviewing the protocols, policies and procedures that had been established for the facilities, while closely monitoring the changing recommendations set by local, state and federal governmental health agencies as well as those from relevant health care associations.

Acting somewhat ahead of those guidelines, the administration restricted visitor access to facilities beginning on March 6. Considering the close-knit nature of Armenian families, some of whom would visit their loved ones at Ararat Home, quite regularly bringing clothes and other necessities and goodies with them, this restriction was understandably difficult to accept initially. However, with regular communication from the administration and management and the growing crisis in Los Angeles County, residents’ families appreciated the gravity of the situation and expressed their support for the restriction.

Following the visitor restriction, the other measures put in place by the administration have progressively been more stringent in an effort to mitigate the risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19 within the resident population as well as among staff. The strict infection control and prevention measures that have been implemented include the ongoing re-training of staff in these practices and educating residents in proper handwashing and coughing/sneezing etiquette. The facilities are constantly being cleaned and disinfected. For several weeks, all staff members have been required to wear a mask during their shifts, and they continue to be monitored throughout their work hours for any symptoms. Similarly, staff is closely monitoring all residents for any symptoms.

In addition to the restriction of outside visitors, all non-essential consultations within the facilities and residents’ appointments or visits outside of the facilities have been canceled. Besides halting the interaction of residents with non-staff outsiders, residents’ interactions with each other were also scaled-down and eventually stopped. All communal spaces (for dining and activities) are now empty, as residents are asked to remain in their rooms. All meals are served to residents directly in their rooms and all social activities have been canceled.

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This change in residents’ everyday social life has understandably impacted their emotional and mental well-being. While the majority of residents in the Assisted Living Facility are able to walk outside for a change of scenery and participate in limited activities while practicing physical distancing, almost all residents in the Nursing Facility and the Convalescent Hospital are either non-ambulatory or unable to walk unassisted outside of the facility. In order to prevent the feelings of isolation and loneliness among all residents, staff members have increased their one-on-one interactions with them. While residents continue to receive visits from nursing staff in their rooms who care for their physical as well as emotional needs, they also now receive social visits from administrative and management staff (whom they do not normally see regularly) who spend time chatting with them and connecting them through telephone or video chat with family members. Furthermore, management regularly communicates with family members to assure them that their loved ones are safe and cared for.

Besides the various strategies and measures that have been implemented in response to the outbreak, the other most significant step taken in preparation for the growing crisis has been the procurement of additional quantities of essential supplies. These include food and drink, paper and cleaning products, and personal protective equipment (PPE). While the Home’s usual suppliers were able to deliver the larger quantity for most of these orders, finding certain cleaning products required a bit more work and finding supplies of PPE was even more challenging.

While using the contacts that the administration had established within the industry over the years has been helpful, significant assistance came from several members of the Los Angeles Armenian community in the form of donations and connections to new suppliers. Besides receiving donations of masks as well as monetary donations for the purchase of additional supplies, Ararat Home also received offers from individuals and businesses to facilitate contact between the Home and their manufacturing partners and suppliers abroad. As a result, Ararat Home has been able to procure the necessary quantities of PPE for now and has a means of purchasing additional quantities in the future, as necessary.

For the past several years, all three Ararat Home facilities have operated at full capacity with a waiting list of applicants for each one. As no new admissions have been accepted in the facilities since early March and some residents have been discharged, the unoccupied spaces are being converted to isolation beds and rooms in preparation for any possible cases of COVID-19 among current residents.

As such, the facilities are as prepared as they can possibly be. Since the situation is dynamic, the administration is closely monitoring new guidelines and remains ready to adapt new recommendations set forth by agencies.

Ararat Home currently (as of April 8) has no known cases of COVID-19 among its resident population. Some cases among staff members have been identified in the past week, and those individuals, along with colleagues who had been working in close proximity to them, are in quarantine.

While maintaining staffing ratios has been a challenge (as it has in many health care facilities) Ararat Home has thus far fared fairly well. The Armenian community’s support of the Home for over seven decades and the influence of Armenian culture on how services are delivered and how care is provided have created a unique experience for residents at Ararat Home. Ararat Home prides itself on providing quality, compassionate care to residents in a safe, home-like environment. This also means that employees feel a sense of responsibility and dedication to caring for residents. As such, the commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of residents continues. In turn, staff has been receiving support and encouragement from the residents themselves, their family members, and members within the larger Armenian community. And, the administration remains committed to ensuring the physical, social and mental well-being of staff members as well.

Many of the Armenian staff members, who are, for the most part, immigrants from Armenia and Middle Eastern countries, have remarked that they have been through difficult times before. As we have all been trying to make sense of this pandemic and of our current situations, perhaps the experience of having previously lived through turmoil affects the way some cope with the uncertainty of our present times. Whatever positive and negative memories, emotions and thoughts have been triggered recently, there is indeed a collective feeling among staff of togetherness and resilience.

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