Garth Rydland: With effort, we can all be heroes
Living in North Dakota has given us the time to prepare for COVID-19. Thank you to Gov. Burgum and the Department of Health for mass testing long-term care residents and employees in North Dakota. I also appreciate the support of Altru Health System and our Grand Forks Department of Health. It is going to save lives.
Our hearts go out to everyone who has been out of work and whose businesses and livelihoods have been financially decimated. We need you open. Quite frankly, if beauticians can’t come back to work soon, we will have a full-blown riot here at Valley Senior Living.
If you can operate your business in a responsible way, we support you wholeheartedly. If you are unable to fully protect your staff and customers within your workplace, consider our story at Valley Senior Living.
Between Sunday and Monday, we tested about 1,250 employees and residents, which is 5 percent of the tests performed in North Dakota to date. At the mass testing event, we all signed our COVID-19 pledge of how we conduct ourselves inside and outside of work, we downloaded the CARE19 app on our phones, and we collected the household connections to employers.
The state lab processed the samples starting on Monday evening. We received our first call at 11:30 p.m. Monday that a staff member was positive. We called the staff member immediately. She was in disbelief to discover she was COVID-19 positive because she is asymptomatic.
By Tuesday afternoon, the lab had reported four asymptomatic staff (0.5%) were positive, bringing us to a total of seven staff with COVID-19. Five of the seven positive employees work in separate distinct parts of the organization, and the other two do not work on the same shift in the same area. What connects them? While correlation is not causation, consider this: Six of our seven employee COVID-19 cases at Valley Senior Living have a household member who works in a business with a known outbreak of COVID-19. Both the household member and our Valley employee have been asymptomatic carriers in a majority of the cases.
We go to extraordinary lengths to prevent this from occurring at Valley. We not only screen our staff, we also screen their households. If someone in an employee’s household has a new onset of symptoms consistent with COVID-19, is being tested for COVID-19, or if COVID-19 is presumed or confirmed in the household, we take our employee off the schedule and pay them for 100% of their scheduled shifts.
On Tuesday evening, about 50 of us were on a corporate-wide Zoom meeting when we learned about the first two residents who tested positive for COVID-19. We were collectively devastated. An hour later, another call and another resident tested positive. Another call at 12:45 a.m. for the first resident in another building. On Wednesday at 3:15 am, the phone rang and we were given a resident name and confirmation of a positive COVID-19 test. The director of nursing and the infection preventionist transferred the resident to our COVID-19 Care area.
In total, five residents (1.3%) were asymptomatically identified with COVID-19. Residents have made so many personal sacrifices and yet this has happened. While some of our residents are suffering from loneliness despite our best efforts, others are keeping their spirits high and they give us perspective.
At the moment of writing this, I received a one-line email from a Valley resident: “Having some states lock down and some states not lock down is like having a peeing zone in a swimming pool.”
What my friend is trying to tell us is that we are all interconnected. Out of 829 staff, six of our seven employees with COVID-19 at Valley Senior Living have a household or family member who works in businesses with a known outbreak of COVID-19.
When you reopen your businesses, despite your best efforts to screen, asymptomatic spreaders of COVID-19 will be walking in your doors every day. Some will be your employees. Act as though everyone potentially has asymptomatic COVID-19 in your workplace. Enforce your rules with your staff.
If your best efforts still lead to a suspected outbreak, call the Public Health Department immediately. Follow their recommendations. Lean into it. It’s uncomfortable, but it will help us keep our most vulnerable people safe in this community. Immunocompromised people and healthcare employees live in your employees’ households.
Our staff at Valley Senior Living and in health care settings everywhere are heroes. We would love to share this label with our business community. We can all be heroes.
Garth Rydland is president and CEO of Valley Senior Living.