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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 19, 2020 10 months ago

Retirement communities work to protect residents

Screening visitors and halting group activities are two of the steps Plymouth Harbor leadership has taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

A worker sits at the entrance of Plymouth Harbor to ask everyone who enters the building a few essential questions: Do you have a fever or a cough? Have you traveled out of the state or country recently?

If you answer no, there’s still one more step before you can get in — a digital temperature scan. If the worker confirms the absence of a fever, a visitor receives a pink wristband to signify they’ve got clearance to be inside the building. Or parts of it, at least. Access to the assisted living facility or nursing services at the Smith Care Center is off-limits to regular visitors, restricted only to essential personnel.

Plymouth Harbor, a retirement community on Coon Key, didn’t wait for this month’s state and federal direction to take action to limit the potential of COVID-19 spreading to residents or workers. President and CEO Harry Hobson said the coronavirus preparation at Plymouth Harbor began three weeks ago.

Outreach efforts included educating the community about how to deal with the disease via in-person meetings and messages on the internal TV network. A team of workers and residents continues to meet regularly to make sure their strategy reflects the most up-to-date information.

Life is different at Plymouth Harbor today than it was a month ago. Trips to the grocery store have been canceled and replaced with online shopping. Group exercise classes have been canceled and are being replaced by prerecorded workouts. Hobson said health and safety is Plymouth Harbor’s main priority, particularly for the vulnerable population there, but he acknowledged the response to COVID-19 represented a difficult mindset shift.

“Our whole mission is about socialization,” Hobson said. “It’s counterintuitive for us to go now to isolation.”

Hobson said there is a consortium of retirement communities in the area sharing resources when possible during emergencies. Although that group was established in response to Hurricane Wilma, it’s been activated to discuss strategies for the ongoing pandemic.

Internally, Plymouth Harbor has established a COVID-19 leadership team comprising more than a dozen staff members.

One of the key people on that team is Karen Novak, the director of nursing at the Smith Care Center and the recently selected administrator of health care initiatives for all of Plymouth Harbor. Novak brings more than two decades of experience dealing with infection control to the position, and she’s passionate about making sure the necessary policies and procedures are in place at the facility.

Novak said residents at Plymouth Harbor are taking matters seriously and looking out for one another, which she said helps the work medical professionals are doing.

“It’s in all of our minds now,” Novak said. “When someone sneezes or coughs, all the heads turn. It’s about responsibility and accountability.”

Connie Sanders, a resident at Plymouth Harbor and the president of the residents association, said people there have faith in the leadership to see them through a challenging time. Sanders, who sits in on COVID-19 staff meetings, said that trust comes through both the day-to-day interactions residents have with workers and the experience of facing other serious threats to the community, such as hurricanes.

“Each time you went through something like that, it builds your confidence — it’s going to be OK,” Sanders said. “It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be OK.”

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