Families and community are tightly knotted in Crisfield, Maryland, not unlike the fishing nets and crab pots watermen have been casting into the Tangier Sound for centuries. It is a small town with a big tradition of keeping a close eye on the water, and a closer one on each other.

"Because we're in a small community, we have an incredibly personal relationship with our residents at Tawes and the Chesapeake Cove," said Novella Bozman, Tawes Nursing Home Administrator. "Our family members stay here, teachers who taught us in high school and former staff members are here. We're a very compassionate, experienced and caring team. It's not uncommon for people to reach into their own pockets to buy something our residents want or need. It's who we are and what we do."

That made it particularly difficult when the Tawes Nursing Home and the Chesapeake Cove Assisted Living Center, both owned and operated by Peninsula Regional Health System's McCready Foundation, closed the campus to all visitors on March 13 ahead of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Community members who had become accustomed to visiting multiple times a day to assist in the care of their friends of loved ones suddenly found themselves on the outside.

"We understand the hardship this has caused, and it was a heart-wrenching decision, but this is an aged population most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 and we have a responsibility, a duty to protect them and others," added Kathleen Harrison, President of the McCready Foundation.

Unique times call for creative solutions. To help with the separation of families, the Peninsula Regional Medical Center Information Technology Department provided residents of Tawes and Chesapeake Cove with three iPads. For many, this was their first encounter with this style of technology. That included Ms. Mary Adams, in the photo, who celebrated her 100th birthday on April 18 and shared the occasion, via video chatting, with family. Each iPad is disinfected before and after use, and family members have been given instruction on how and when to contact their loved ones. Electronic communication by individually owned personal devices is also encouraged and supported.

Getting ahead of COVID-19 early at both Tawes and Chesapeake Cove has been critical to their success of having staff and the resident population, to date, symptom free.

"Every employee is screened at the start of their shift, and all staff are following precautions almost as stringent as those on hospital COVID units, even more strictly than advised by the CDC and state and local health officials for nursing homes," said Vijay Karumbunathan, MD, Medical Director, Tawes Nursing Home. Dr. Vijay, as everyone in Crisfield affectionately knows him, also shared that residents are monitored several times a day for symptoms.

Additionally, at both Tawes Nursing Home and Chesapeake Cove Assisted Living, the following safety measures are being strictly followed:

  • Universal masking for any staff member who enters the building, regardless of their destination.
  • Multiple hand hygiene stations.
  • Entry is limited to the front door to control and monitor staff in and out of the building.
  • Caregivers wear face shields, over surgical masks, for all patient contact.
  • Staff wear protective gloves and gowns during all close or direct contact with residents (dressing, bathing/shower, transfers, hygiene, changing linens, toileting and feeding).
  • Tawes Nursing Home is doing all resident laundry to ensure safe practices are followed.
  • All vendors are required to drop off supplies at the loading dock without entering the building.  If emergencies require they enter, they must follow the same screening process as employees.
  • All incoming mail is sorted at the front desk by staff wearing gloves.  Packages (cardboard and plastic) are being disinfected and held for 24 hours before delivery to residents. A staff member assists the resident in opening any packages and then immediately disposing all the outside shipping containers.
  • For the safety of residents, communal dining has stopped. Residents dine in their rooms.

In the days before COVID-19, live entertainment including church choirs, a string band, gospel singers and others would visit to entertain residents. Now, keeping social distancing at the forefront, staff at Tawes and Chesapeake Cove have created games and activities that can be played keeping residents safely in their rooms or just outside their doors like bingo, sing-alongs and storytelling. There's ball toss and balloon volleyball. And, much like the days of neighborhood ice cream trucks, residents are treated to frozen delights tied to a balloon with a bell the rings at their door when delivered by staff.

"Families that I have talked to are very appreciative of all we are doing, and feel we are providing the best level of care to our residents with the maximum protection," added Dr. Vijay.