Spokane Journal of Business

Reuniting retirement home residents with their friends, families

Vaccination rates said to be high among seniors at INW retirement complexes

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-Virginia Thomas
Sheila Fritts, of Fairwood Retirement Village, says most residents received their first vaccination shot in January.

As long-term care facilities begin to reopen to visitors in the wake of climbing vaccination rates, administrators here say spaces at their facilities are in high demand.

On March 18, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced long-term care facilities can reopen their doors for visits, provided either the resident or the visitor is vaccinated.

Administrators here say vaccination rates among residents of independent-living communities are high, enabling most residents to receive visitors.

Sheila Fritts, director of marketing at Fairwood Retirement Village, north of Spokane at 312 W. Hastings, says about 99% of the 217 residents in the independent-living side of the facility have been vaccinated, and vaccination rates in its memory care and assisted-living communities are similarly high. Residents of the independent-living facility received their first dose in mid-January, Fritts says.

“When we finally got it, it was such a morale booster,” she says.

Fairwood is reopening in a phased approach, Fritts says.

“(Residents) don’t have 40 or 50 or 60 years ahead of them to get on with life, so we’re eager for them to be able to get back to doing what they want to do,” Fritts says. “But we also know that things could change, and that we could have to step backwards, so we’re always ready to pivot and navigate to the next thing.”

Residents at Fairwood’s independent-living complex are allowed up to two visitors a day, Fritts says.

Jamie Bravato, general manager at Fairwinds Spokane, located on the North Side at 520 E. Holland, says residents at that facility’s independent-living side can have up to four visitors, who must complete a questionnaire and temperature screening process and then remain masked and socially distanced from the resident. Visitors are allowed up to two hours in the resident’s home.

Bravato says several residents received visitors the weekend of March 20.

“We saw a lot of families eager to come into the residents’ apartments,” Bravato says. “For a majority of (families), they hadn’t been into the building to see (residents) in a year.”

Bravato says 97% of residents at Fairwinds Spokane are vaccinated.

“It’s really easy to track if a visitor is able to come in, because 97% of our residents can have a visitor, whether the visitor is vaccinated or not,” Bravato says.

Fairwinds worked to set up video conferencing calls and outdoor, socially distanced visits with relatives at the facility’s fire pit prior to COVID-19 vaccines becoming available.

“They stayed connected, but to have visitors actually come to the apartment was a really big deal for a lot of our residents,” Bravato says. “It means a lot more happiness. We’re wearing masks, but we see the smiles behind the masks.”

Throughout the pandemic, business has remained brisk.

At Fairwood, Fritts says the independent-living complex doesn’t have any vacancies, and the waitlist for units has grown during the pandemic with at least 40 individuals or couples waiting for space.

“We’ve had no interruption to business,” Fritts says. “We’ve probably filled two to four units in independent living every month throughout the pandemic. Even during the worst times of the restrictions, we were able to safely welcome newcomers to the community under a 14-day isolation period.”

Bravato says vacancy at Fairwinds is about 7%, up just slightly from pre-pandemic levels.

“We were very fortunate to not have any COVID-19 outbreaks in our community in the last year, we had zero deaths of residents from COVID, and we didn’t have anyone move out because of COVID-related issues,” Bravato claims. “That part really did help our occupancy in staying high, as well as keeping our residents as active and independent as we can, so that they aren’t declining.”

At Fairwood, Fritts says staff understood how isolation during the pandemic might exacerbate loneliness for single residents or residents who are their partners’ full-time caregivers.

“During the pandemic, when you make eye contact with somebody and you say hello to them and ask them how they’re doing, you might be the only person they’ve talked to that day. It makes a difference,” Fritts says.

Staff at Fairwood kept an eye out for signs of isolation or inactivity in residents, she says.

“The housekeepers, the waitstaff, the administrators, the activities director, the receptionist, everybody is on the same page,” she says. “We need to look out for these people and not just keep them safe and healthy and fed, but make sure they’re doing okay, see what their needs are.”

Fritts says residents also have adapted to changes such as receiving meals delivered to their doors, wearing masks in public, and using the hand sanitizers stationed throughout the facility.

“Seniors know how to do things,” Fritts says. “They know how to problem-solve. They know how to look out for each other. They know how to wait. They know how to live during hard times. Many of them have already been through hard things before in their lives.”

New COVID-19 cases at nursing homes have declined 96% since Dec. 20, according to a March 30 report by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living.

As infection rates go down, Fairwinds hopes to host more outdoor events and activities for residents to enjoy with visitors, Bravato says.

“It’s about changing our way of thinking to still be able to offer all of the things that our residents and families enjoyed before,” Bravato says. “We’re embracing that this is the normal for right now, of wearing masks and checking people in at the front desk and taking temperatures. That doesn’t mean we can’t do things like we did before, it just looks a little bit different now.”

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the banking and finance industries. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys travelling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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