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Galax Health and Rehab responds to criticism from public

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 10:59 PM EDT
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GALAX, Va. (WDBJ) - In Galax, a nursing home has been one of the harder-hit facilities across our hometowns.

Galax Health and Rehab said it has seen 24 residents die from COVID-19, 10 at the facility and 14 that went to outside facilities and didn’t make it back. Prior to the virus hitting the nursing home, staff said there were 90 residents living in the facility.

Even with precautions put in place well before the first cases showed up at the facility, the staff said they didn’t see typical symptoms as they monitored their residents twice a day.

“That’s the thing with this virus, everybody has such a different experience,” said Director of Nursing Tammy Eichner.

Eichner said it wasn’t until residents had other issues like renal failure or a heart attack that they found out it was more than that.

“They weren’t testing positive here, they were testing positive at the hospital because we were sending them out for something totally different,” Eichner said.

The virus does not discriminate. She and other staff tested positive for the virus.

“We were healthcare professionals and we thought we were doing everything we could to prevent it and some of us still got sick,” Eichner said.

What really got to her was the criticism the facility continued to face since the cases and deaths started to emerge around Memorial Day. The facility did not want residents to be alone fighting this virus and said they did what they could to care for and comfort them.

“I had a lot of frustration for the lack of attention that my staff had received for the job they had done,” Eichner said.

So she wrote an op-ed in the local paper, talking about how staff stayed by the sides of residents, even during their final breaths.

“I know how hard these workers tried to prevent it and how hard they were doing the job they were doing to keep these residents healthy that were here and it was just hurtful,” she said. “It was like trying to stop a tornado from getting into your building. You had done everything you could, but it still came.”

Normally, the parking lot would be filled with visitors around dinnertime. But the facility is locked down and residents haven’t seen loved ones in person for three months now.

Eichner said it was tough to clean out the rooms and box up their lives as they passed.

“That’s the side that nobody sees,” she said. “They don’t see that even though we were on isolation to know that you had someone who you knew was not going to make it until the next morning, so you made that decision to call that family and let them come in to be with them one last time.”

Which is why she is emphasizing how serious the current situation is for the community, especially because we really don’t know how to prevent it.

“The small sacrifices we’re asking people to make, it’s nothing compared to what we have had to force people to do here,” she said. “It is an inconvenience to wear a mask, it’s not comfortable. If that lessens your chance of making someone else sick or making someone else sick, it’s worth it.”

Eichner said there have been no more positive test or symptoms at Galax Health and Rehab for about three weeks. They are waiting to get a second negative test back to start to slowly open again.

You can read the most up-to-date information on the facility on its website.

Walk a Mile in the Shoes of a Long-Term Care Provider

By Tammy Eichner, Director of Nursing, Galax Health and Rehab

It saddens me to see the public opinion of our facility and to hear people say things like, “if my mom was there, I’d get her out.” It is so hurtful to receive criticism for the work that is done behind these walls. Without being here to witness firsthand, no one will ever see the true story. Our story and our voice will remain silent, except for those who have experienced it.

No one will know that, unlike many of the patients in intensive care unit beds across America, our residents were not alone. They were not isolated even though they were on isolation precautions. No. They continued to be bathed, have lotions applied, turned, changed, fed, visited, and most importantly, loved.

Our residents had their hands held. They had their hair brushed. They were sang to and prayed with. Staff members sat with them off the clock to comfort them in their final moments. Staff mourned their final breaths.

No one will know how our staff cried as they sorted through a resident’s cherished memories and boxed them up, remembering how “she wore that necklace to bingo” or “that scarf to see Elvis.”

No one will see our staff members in their personal protective equipment (PPE) weeping, trying to comfort one another from six feet apart until the end of their shifts so they could get to their cars to break down. They won’t see our teammates returning to the facility the next day with swollen eyes from the tears of crying for the loss of these loved souls. Masks don’t hide that.

No one will understand the feeling of failure, even though all precautions were taken - that feeling that you didn’t do enough, even though your community is ravaged and not having a fighting chance to be able to keep it out. It is like trying to keep out a tornado.

No one will know the devastation of calling a family to tell them to come see mom or dad because, even though visitation is not allowed, you are making an exception because you don’t think their loved one will be here tomorrow. It’s the right thing to do, even though family members must wear full PPE and not physically touch their loved one.

We believe that for all of our patients there should be comfort and dignity in death, regardless of age or life expectancy.

No one will know this hell, but they will gladly pass judgment.

Our staff members embody professionalism, caring, dedication and love. The phrase “hero” has been thrown around a lot. If you could come visit my staff and hear their stories, you would know what true heroes looks like.

There will never be words to thank our long-term care providers for going above and beyond as they serve our most vulnerable population during this health crisis, selflessly accepting the risk that providing care poses to themselves and their loved ones. Those are the real heroes.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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