‘We didn’t lose a one’: Lincoln long-term care facilities embrace new normal in pandemic’s wake

As national and local COVID-19 emergency declarations expire, one Lincoln assisted living facility reflects on its time during the pandemic.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 10:37 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - It’s been a week of milestones in the long fight against COVID-19. The Lincoln City Council voted to end the capital city’s public health emergency, and the nation’s emergency also expired Thursday.

While this created some noticeable changes like Lincoln’s COVID Risk Dial going away, at places like long-term care facilities bigger restrictions have already come and gone.

In that time, they said they’d found a good balance.

About 20 people reside in Havelock Manor, an assisted living facility in northeast Lincoln, and the long years of the pandemic weren’t easy on any of them or the nearly 30 staff members.

“You know everyone, and everyone is interested in each other,” said Erna Johns, a resident.

Dinnertime at the facility is quiet and intimate, with residents eating turkey pot pie and sipping milk, casting knowing glances at one another like they would with family.

That tight-knit, family-like dynamic was forced apart during the height of the pandemic, when the outside doors stayed closed to everyone other than staff, and inside, smiles remained hidden beneath masks for years.

“Gowning up, gowning down. Masking up, masking down,” said Cassie Stout a medication aide supervisor. “It was a lot of work.”

Administrator Janine Petracek said the decision to shut the doors to families weighed heavily on her, but she felt she had no choice.

“I honestly thought that I was going to have a nervous breakdown if I got COVID in here because I’m so attached to my residents,” Petracek said.

It turns out the commitment from her and her staff, sometimes foregoing meet-ups with grand kids and close friends, made a big difference. Not one person in the assisted living facility got COVID-19 until 2022, long after all the residents were vaccinated.

“And we didn’t lose a one,” Petracek said.

Nowadays residents and staff are adjusting to life beyond the darkest days of the pandemic. With national and local COVID-19 emergency declarations expiring, health workers have a new set of guidelines.

“It almost feels, almost, like a weight has been lifted,” Stout said.

But Petracek said the new guidelines don’t change much for Havelock Manor. Staff will keep getting screened for COVID-19. But months ago, the masks went down, and outside visitors are free to come in. It’s a far cry from earlier when visits could only happen through room windows.

Staff and residents said they’re just happy to be together.

“We were all a family, and after we came out, why, we kind of got reacquainted again,” Johns said.

The bottom line with the new guidelines is that nursing homes and assisted living facilities still must do everything they can to prevent COVID-19 or any other viruses from spreading.