Bella Sera, Haven keep seniors safe

Facilities for elder care urge community to partner in protecting our vulnerable

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Bella Sera, Haven keep seniors safe“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Since the pandemic hit our country, one of the gravest concerns among public health officials was the disproportionately high mortality rates on the elderly.

Early reports from countries like Italy and cities like New York showed that older citizens, particularly those with co-morbidities, had more difficulty combatting the disease. In Kern County, several elder-care facilities experienced outbreaks that accounted for as much as a third of our death toll early on.

But in the Indian Wells Valley, Bella Sera and High Desert Haven have remained on high alert — going to great lengths to protect their residents and staff. And because of background community transmission risks, they are reminding residents not to let down their guard just yet.

“At the onset, the pandemic undeniably caused alarm and worries,” said Christian Salviejo, administrator of Bella Sera. Because of the sometimes aggressive nature of the virus, and the many remaining unknowns, the staff continues to be concerned.

“There was definitely a panic, especially with all the news we heard early on — the severe impacts on our long-term residents and the deadliness of the virus,” said Abraham Mathews, CEO of High Desert Haven.

“We even had a couple of people who quit because they were afraid of working in a facility that was so high-risk.”

But six months into our declaration of emergency, staff members of both facilities continue to practice extreme care — at work and in their personal lives. And so far, no positive results have been reported from residents or staff.

Bela Sera is a skilled nursing facility that caters to patients with more acute needs in healthcare support. But High Desert Haven, while it provides meals, cleaning, medication management and 24-hour support, is more like a retirement village.

“Our facility is for seniors who are medically stable, and capable of some level of independence,” said Mathews. “There is a little more freedom – almost like living in a one-bedroom apartment.”

Early on, Haven adopted the restrictions on visitors, safety precautions and heightened hygiene protocols to prevent transmission.

“It has been stressful,” he said. And he acknowledged that many of the seniors experienced the negative emotional toll associated with isolation. But residents can now visit so long as masks and distancing are enforced. And visitors, taking similar precautions, can now come and see their loved ones in the outdoor spaces.

“We are very lucky to have a staff that is so responsible,” said Mathews. “They have kept up all of the appropriate health and safety protocols, which is one of the reasons I believe we have been able to keep our residents safe.”

Salviejo noted that Bella Sera staff have also maintained strict adherence to all infection control protocols.

Those residents also had a difficult time adjusting to some of the restrictions, but Bella Sera Staff have been committed to facilitating distance-friendly activities like hallway bingo, a mobile farmer’s market, Skype calls and now courtyard visits.

“The residents’ family members have been very supportive and appreciative of what we have been doing to protect their loved ones,” said Salviejo.

Through the stresses on the healthcare industry, however, Bella Sera Director of Nursing Todd Rowland noted that the facility staff has thrived and excelled in their new roles in exerting additional protection of their charges.

“Our staff has had to manage both their own personal lives and the impact that the pandemic may have had on them and their families while continuing that diligence into the work environment with regard to our residents and their safety,” said Rowland.

“I believe our community as a whole has been very supportive with our efforts to keep this exceedingly vulnerable population safe,” said Rowland.

“I would just ask the community to keep in mind that all of our employees have been asked to continue to work in a potentially hazardous environment. Our employees have willingly accepted this role and this responsibility.

“Many of them have family members of their own who would be at risk and are managing to juggle the role as a healthcare provider and responsible family member at the same time.

“This can be a very stressful situation for many of our employees, and they have embraced their roles and have demonstrated outstanding dedication to both our community and their profession.”

“I think our community has done well — especially when you compare the number of cases here to those of other cities,” agreed Mathews.

“I appreciate how responsible our staff as well as our citizens have been. The best way to continue to keep everyone safe is to continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands. We are also seeing that large gatherings in close spaces are one of the number one reasons for transmission.”

Mathews said that he is accepting new residents looking for a safe place to stay.

“I think this is a better choice than trying to live alone for many of our elder residents.”

Salviejo also encouraged community participation in the role of protecting seniors. In addition to practicing cautions, he urged families of residents to take advantage of all forms of media now available to those at Bella Sera. “Maybe a letter or personal thoughtful greeting card will brighten a resident’s day.”

“One thing I believe that we have learned in all of this is how important it is to protect our elderly. Their immune systems can be more compromised. The risks for them are very different from the risks for some of the rest of us,” said Salviejo. “We all need to do our part.”

Pictured: Abraham Mathews (right) and a High Desert Haven caseworker walk in the courtyard with resident Anna Marie Bergens. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-09-18