Rodney Alderfer was doing everything he could to protect himself, his family and those in his workplace from becoming sick with COVID-19.

“I go to work and I come home,” the president of Bridgewater Retirement Community in Bridgewater, VA, told me Friday.

He came down with the disease anyway.

But it was BRC’s strict protocols that caught it last week and likely limited its spread.

Rodney Alderfer headshot
Rodney Alderfer

“I didn’t really suspect that I had it,” Alderfer said, explaining that his symptoms were mild and consisted of a “stuffy head” and a headache. “It felt like a head cold,” he said.

But when the leader relayed those symptoms during a screening on Monday morning at the life plan community, the infection control nurse was called, and she said that a test was warranted.

“She did the test right there and sent me home,” Alderfer said. Late Tuesday afternoon, he learned that the test result was positive. The president now is working from home in the midst of a 14-day quarantine, as are the eight or nine senior-level and other staff members with whom he had been in close contact. Health officials also are conducting contact tracing to ensure that anyone else who had been in contact with Alderfer is aware of the potential exposure to the disease and can adjust his or her actions accordingly.

“For all of us, whether personally or professionally, we have to continue to stay vigilant. Just because we’re doing everything right doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed that we’re not going to get affected by it,” he said of the coronavirus. “That’s the thing that was eye-opening for me.”

Up until the president’s case, Bridgewater had only seen one case of COVID-19.

Early in the pandemic, a part-time CNA who worked weekends in a nursing household tested positive for the virus — she had worn a mask at work, but the residents in the household were quarantined as a precaution — but none of the continuing care retirement community’s more than 500 residents have tested positive, Alderfer said.

“We have taken this whole pandemic very seriously. We have put lots of safety precautions in place,” he said, adding that the community adopted some measures, including the wearing of face coverings, before guidance was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and state and local health officials.

Like many other senior living settings, in addition to undertaking infection control measures, BRC suspended communal dining and changed its approach to activities. Some roads into the community were closed, and a temporary gatehouse was constructed “so that we could more carefully control the traffic on our campus,” Alderfer said.

With his diagnosis, all workers now will wear medical-grade surgical masks. Previously, only workers with direct care responsibilities did so, and other employees wore cloth face coverings.

“We had a lot of folks donate homemade, cloth face coverings, so we were wearing those,” Alderfer said. Those cloth masks still will be provided to employees to wear outside of work; in Virgina, he explained, people are required to wear face coverings when visiting businesses and other public areas.

Fortunately, Alderfer said, securing face masks and other personal protective equipment has not been an issue for the CCRC.

“We have always taken infection control seriously, and so we did maintain a supply,” he said. “We had some on hand, and we have good relationships with our suppliers. We’ve been able to build an inventory, so we feel comfortable that folks outside nursing can start to use them now.”

As another precaution to prevent disease spread, BRC temporarily has halted a construction and renovation project on the campus because two members of a contracted crew have tested positive for the virus. BRC believes those cases are not related to Alderfer’s case because the crew members were working on demolition and asbestos abatement in an isolated area.

But the CCRC already was being proactive in trying to prevent the illness from entering the community, Alderfer said, adding, however, that “it’s an ongoing process.”

“This is kind of an ironic turn of events for me personally, as I do this every day — trying to make sure that nobody gets it — and then here it’s me who gets it. It’s ironic yet eye-opening and humbling to understand that, but this is still a serious thing, and we all need to be paying attention.”

Rodney Alderfer, President, Bridgewater Retirement Community

“I have been at the head of the pack, preaching safety precautions, encouraging all of our residents, all of our team members, to be careful, to wash their hands, sanitize, wear their mask, social distancing and all of that,” he said. “This is kind of an ironic turn of events for me personally, as I do this every day — trying to make sure that nobody gets it — and then here it’s me who gets it. It’s ironic yet eye-opening and humbling to understand that, but this is still a serious thing, and we all need to be paying attention.”

Alderfer credits the community’s success in battling COVID-19 to a team approach, regular meetings — daily or every other day, policy development and communication.

“Our infection control specialist has been fantastic, our director of nursing has been fantastic, and our administrator has been fantastic, and they carry a lot of the technical responsibility for this,” he said, “but it’s been a real team effort, and we’ve really tried to encourage our folks to think of it that way and to understand the implications of their jobs and their responsibilities to their team members and to the residents.”

Now, as Alderfer and some other community employees work from home and prepare to return to the work on campus soon, BRC is keeping an eye on COVID-19’s presence in the greater community to determine when the retirement community might be able to permit visitors based on CMS, CDC and state and local guidance.

“The White House has plans for the country to open, and CMS has plans for nursing homes in general to open, and now we have plans for our specific community to open,” he said. “We’re going to be cautious with that just like we’ve been cautious with this thing all along. I know that our folks are looking forward to the time when we can have visitation from families coming in. We’re just going to need to do that as responsibly as we can.”

Alderfer is confident that his team is up to the task.

“The fact that we were paying attention, that we were doing our screening, that we were taking that seriously and that even the president, they questioned him and said, ‘Hey, this is a symptom. You’ve got to get checked,’ I think that’s a testament to our team, that they were willing, even though I didn’t feel like it was a significant symptom for myself, that our folks who were screening took it seriously enough to even question the president,” he said. “I’m proud of them for that.”