Sunrise Hill caring amid outbreak

Sunrise Hill Care Center & Rehab in Traer, Iowa -- File Photo

EDITORS NOTE: The article below was originally published on Oct. 2. As of Oct. 8 the Iowa Department of Public Health has reported two long term care outbreaks in Tama County including Sunrise Hill Care Center in Traer and SunnyCrest Nursing Center in Dysart. Sunrise Hill had reported 25 positive cases with 18 of those recovered. SunnyCrest had reported 9 positive cases with 4 of those recovered.

As the COVID-19 pandemic nears its seventh month in the state of Iowa, residents and staff at long term care centers throughout the state are still faced with many of the same challenges as they were in the spring.

With positive cases still being reported in Iowa, long term care residents most vulnerable to the coronavirus still face social distancing protocols that limit their ability to physically be with their outside family and friends.

Care centers in Tama County have been acutely affected by the spread of COVID-19 with four different facilities reporting outbreaks since March.

Sunrise Hill Care Center & Rehab in Traer is the latest long term care center in Tama County to report an outbreak.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s online dashboard, the Traer care center has reported 14 positive cases within their facility. As of press deadline on Wednesday, eight of those cases have recovered.

Tama County is one 33 counties in the state with an active long term care center outbreak. As of Wednesday there were 52 care center outbreaks statewide.

The outbreaks at the other three Tama County long term care centers occurred closer to the beginning of the pandemic in the spring and early summer and have each fallen off the list of active outbreak centers.

The staff at Sunrise Hill Care Center & Rehab have considered themselves fortunate to have held off the coronavirus for as long as they have.

“We were one of the few nursing homes in Tama County that did not have positive cases until just recently,” Sunrise Hill Administrator Marcy McNeal Martin said. “We have employed additional measures such as full building sanitization which we believe played a strong role in allowing us to not have any positive cases for such a long time. It’s a real testament to the strengths of our nursing leadership and the tenacity of our workers. We have a wonderful infection control nurse, Shellie Morrison, who has really taken the lead in keeping our facility safe. They’ve all done a wonderful job.”

While residents are required to continue social distancing, the staff at Sunrise Hill have taken extra care in adapting their services to better help meet the social and emotional needs of the residents in quarantine during the current outbreak.

“We’ve hired additional staff to help with some of the special needs brought on by the COVID-19 situation,” McNeal Martin said. “Those staff members are the intermediary for Facetime video chat visits with families. Folks who never heard of or thought of a concept like Facetime are embracing it and have their weekly appointments.”

“We established a pen pal program that’s been very successful. The residents are always very excited to see those little envelopes coming in. We also have a very strong activities department with three staff members. They have gone above and beyond taking care of coordinating and running activities for our residents.”

With the quarantine affecting the entire Sunrise Hill community and their families, McNeal Martin and the staff at Sunrise Hill employ a call distribution center system where updates can be sent to family members and staff multiple times per week in an efficient, yet effective way.

Over the months of quarantine the community of Traer has also stepped up in multiple ways to support the care center residents and the essential staff working there.

“We’ve been very fortunate that the community of Traer has been so supportive to us since the beginning in March,” McNeal Martin said. “They’ve loved on us with cookies and sub sandwiches and pizza. It feels good to have that support.”

For those in or connected to the Traer community who are able, McNeal Martin encourages folks to connect with the Sunrise Hill residents, particularly during this time of unique isolation.

“What would really be the most beneficial is messages for our residents,” McNeal Martin said. “Visitors can’t come into the facility currently and that includes our performers. But we have the ability on our courtyard to have people perform. We had a very active performer scheduled previously who has not been able to come. Sing, dance, whatever you want to do to entertain. If you have hidden talents, if you play guitar or the according and you want to play let us know. The residents adore it.”

Sunrise Hill is still working with their pen pal program and also suggest community members with time available send in to be connected with a Sunrise Hill resident. A message from the Sunrise Hill Facebook page regarding the pen pal program reads: All you have to do is write a letter, introduce yourself, say or ask anything you want and mail it to the care center and you will be assigned a Pen Pal. Don’t think you’re interesting enough? Trust me, you are! They will light up with delight with a short note, a letter, a picture, a drawing, anything really. To think, five minutes of your day, can make a resident’s entire day.

Please make sure on the envelope you put “Adopt a Pen Pal” so we know it’s not regular mail.

Sunrise Hill Care Center & Rehab

(Adopt a Pen PAL)

909 6th Street

Traer IA 50675