What happens when the head of a retirement community gets diagnosed with COVID-19?

Rodney Alderfer, president of Bridgewater Retirement Community, speaks at a Valley Healthy Aging Symposium pre-pandemic. (Photo courtesy of BRC)

By Sukainah Abid-Kons, contributor

When Rodney Alderfer, president of the Bridgewater Retirement Community, found out he had tested positive for COVID-19 on June 2, he knew that he and the senior leadership team with whom he worked had to quarantine for two weeks to protect each other, as well as the community’s residents — who, because of their age, are among those most at risk.  

Alderfer and the rest of his senior team had already been avoiding entering certain facilities on the campus, such was the assisted living and nursing household wings, to protect the residents — with only the care staff being allowed in. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services determined in March that all nursing homes and assisted living facilities had to halt all visitations to try to control the spread of the virus and protect the population of those 65 and older, especially when many live in close proximity as part of a retirement community. The community had 538 residents and about 430 employees, according to the 2019 financial report.  

Along with following those regulations, the Bridgewater Retirement Community took additional precautions to decrease the chance of an outbreak. 

Bridgewater Retirement Community facilities that provide different living options for residents, including independent living, assisted living, short-term rehabilitative services and memory care for those suffering from dementia.

“We take infection control seriously all the time, so I think we started from a good spot,” Alderfer said of the transitions made to meet the new safety standards.  

While there have been six positive cases of COVID-19 at the community, none of the residents have tested positive. Two staff members — Mr. Alderfer and a nursing household employee —  tested positive and were considered potentially infectious. Four other care members tested positive after not being on the campus for more than 48 hours, so they did not return to work until they were considered non-contagious, said Crista Cabe, director of marketing and sales . 

Taking precautions

Alderfer and his senior team also had access to tests, which were administered if an employee began exhibiting symptoms of the virus. On the day that Alderfer was tested, it was because he came in to work with a headache. 

“And that’s how I got diagnosed,” he said.  

He was sent home that day as a precaution, and when test results came back the next day, Alderfer and his senior team were all sent home for a two-week quarantine period. 

Alderfer said that his diagnosis didn’t put any of the residents in danger. He had been avoiding entering the nursing and assisted living wings since March, with him and his team doing their work from their separate office building. It did, however, make him much more aware of how contagious the virus is. 

 “The lesson for our organization is that as careful as we think we’re being, it’s a very contagious virus and we need to keep our guard up,” Alderfer said. 

The lesson was key as nursing homes and retirement communities begin to make plans to allow family visitations again, which for the past few months have only been granted to families who have a relative in hospice care. 

It’s also why the retirement community implemented other precautions, such as closing off all secondary roads that lead onto the 500-acre campus and putting up a temporary security gate in front of the main entrance. 

The gate serves as a barrier to prevent any non-essential deliveries from entering the campus, as well as ensuring that only staff who are permitted to be at the facility can enter. 

“The security gate keeps outside traffic from coming onto our campus, and essential delivery drivers can be screened at the gate to make sure no one has symptoms of COVID-19,” Alderfer said. 

Facing an additional challenge

While being quarantined was unexpected, Alderfer said he is grateful for what technology allows for in 2020. 

“We have Zoom calls every day, and everyone who needs access to us still has access to us,” he said. 

Alderfer’s quarantine also came as the staff was looking into “evidence of significant financial mismanagement” that led to the firing of a vice president, which Alderfer announced Wednesday in a statement to the media. The retirement community reported the issue to authorities, who are investigating Sarah Hagan, who had been the vice president for independent living and assisted living, according to Alderfer’s statement. 

Alderfer said he couldn’t discuss details of the financial mismanagement because of the investigation but said it didn’t involve any resident’s personal money or property. Hagan did not respond to The Citizen’s request for comment through social media. 

Reopening for visitors soon?

While the Bridgewater Retirement Community has been receiving requests for visitations “every day,” they are not prepared to reopen to the public just yet. 

“We’re staying behind the general community, to make sure there are no spikes that occur from reopening,” said Alderfer, who is aware of this trend after seeing it in several U.S. cities and states

He said he is hopeful that as Virginia continues to reopen, things can begin to return to the way they were before the pandemic began. 

“I believe in the next several weeks we can start to ease some restrictions,” he said. 

Clarification: This article was updated to clarify that senior leadership only avoided the most densely populated parts of the campus, such as the assisted living and nursing home wings.

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