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'They Are Human Beings’: Staff Struggles To Protect Memory Care Patients Through COVID-19 Outbreaks

Elder Health and Living Memory Care Village

Many long-term care facilities in Lane County are scrambling to treat surges of COVID-19 patients and protect healthcare staff.  The challenges intensify when caring for patients suffering from memory loss and dementia.

Elder Health and Living Memory Village in Springfield is made up of nine different houses designed to “feel like home.” Elders live, dine and socialize together. All 95 residents have cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Geriatric nurse and Elder Health medical director Liz von Wellsheim said things were good until the weather turned colder. Since September, they’ve had two COVID-19 outbreaks. In the first, a few people in one house were all asymptomatic. But in the second-“Everybody in the home got it,” said Wellsheim. “Half of them didn’t really get symptoms. Some did and they are now recovering and they’re up and about. Some passed away.”

It is said that memory loss can be harder on the caregiver than the patient. Von Wellsheim said the residents don’t understand or remember the need for masks and quarantines. This is an extra burden on staff.

“Because they’re trying so hard to separate folks,” she said, “and at the same time have them know that they love and care for them-- and they are human beings.”

Von Wellsheim said Elder Health residents and staff are screened daily for symptoms and will continue to receive weekly COVID-19 tests until every result is negative.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.
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