Local elder care facilities prepare for spread of COVID-19


Sophie Grand

Sign posted inside the entrance to the Atria Senior Living home in Ardsley, New York.

Sophie Grand, Opinion Editor

35 coronavirus-related deaths in a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington in late February elevated the need for more safeguards in America’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities, where residents are more susceptible to serious coronavirus illness – due to both age, declining immune function and living conditions. At the time, this cluster of COVID-19 cases was one of the largest in the country. Now, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc across the United States,  senior care centers nationwide are banning visitors and restricting resident activities in an attempt to prevent COVID-19 from affecting this at-risk community. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults and people who have chronic medical conditions appear to be at a higher risk for developing serious COVID-19 illness. In addition, the virus can spread very quickly in constricted locations like care homes.

With the profusion of cases in Westchester County, NY, local elder care facilities and assisted living homes are upping their precautionary measures. 

Atria Senior Living, located in Ardsley, NY, implemented restrictions to protect the health of residents: a Revised Visitor Policy, allowing only “essential visitors” to enter. Essential visitors include: family members of residents who are in imminent end-of-life situations, vendors that provide essential services and individual private duty aids/companions. All of the essential visitors must wear a face mask at all times and pass the health screening upon entrance to the building. 

An Employee Screening Protocol was also established, and requires the staff’s temperature to be taken upon immediate entrance to the building.

On March 22, Atria Senior Living emailed out an update to families that they will now also limit residents to their apartments until further notice.

With residents confined to their modest apartments in solitude, they have limited contact and social experiences. Masters parent Patrice Coleman – mother of Junior Aiden Coleman – explained how her mother-in-law, who resides in an apartment at Atria, is coping with the situation.

Coleman said, “My mother-in-law feels like she is a prisoner. For her it’s really hard because she really thrives on the social aspect of it and she’s really cut off.” She continued, “I feel helpless.”

She added that there’s not much she can do besides getting her some needed toiletries and groceries. 

Brightview Senior Living – located in Tarrytown, New York – has developed a COVID-19 Task Force that meets daily regarding the progress of the virus in the towns and hospitals that are close to their communities. 

The living center made changes in food service and social interactions of residents. According to the COVID-19 update posted on their webpage, Brightview is in constant contact with their vendors, working to ramp up supplies so they are prepared in the event of a full-community quarantine.

Their webpage reads, “We are also grateful for the advice and guidance we have received from our peer senior living companies in Seattle, who had to put measures in place to safeguard their communities against the virus several weeks before it reached the East Coast.”

Located in Dobbs Ferry, NY, the Cabrini of Westchester is a geriatric care facility that offers assistance to elders and those with disabilities, and consists of a nursing home, a short-term rehabilitation facility, a long-term home health care program and both medical and social adult daycare programs. 

The Cabrini of Westchester’s Medical Director Jeff Gold issued a visitor restriction to the home on March 11, which was posted on their website. Cabrini has been closed to visitors since March 13. 

The CDC has created multiple resources for control and preventative measures in healthcare facilities, including a preparedness checklist which is meant to be used to develop a comprehensive response plan. The checklist includes plans for recognition and management of ill residents, visitor restrictions and equipment and supplies.

 The general strategies recommended by the CDC to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities are consistent with the strategies that these care centers utilize regularly to prevent the proliferation of common respiratory viruses, including constant hand-washing, covering cough, avoiding close contact and not touching eyes, mouth or face.