Barbara Thomas
Kendal at Oberlin CEO Barbara Thomas (Credit: Kendal at Oberlin)

Kendal at Oberlin, a Northeast Ohio life plan community, went 16 months without a resident coronavirus case. Then a resident’s fever prompted a rapid test within the past month, which came back positive.

“The evening nurse decided to do a rapid test and was shocked to find it positive,” said CEO Barbara Thomas, speaking Monday during a LeadingAge membership call. The case led to testing of all staff members and residents and began a “complete change of direction” for the community.

Thomas said that Kendal at Oberlin follows a “calm preparedness” mantra.

“It may mean we have to step back three to four steps before we move forward again, but we do it calmly because we learned and continue to learn,” she said. “We are learning together and will continue to change our practices to what makes the most sense because we are learning.”

The community reopened a recently dismantled COVID-19 wing after not using it for 16 months; paused in-person dining, activities and visitation; and reinstituted mask-wearing and social distancing in communal areas.

Through contact tracing, Thomas said, the resident case was traced to a nursing staff member who was symptomatic but quarantining at home as she awaited her COVID-19 test results that were delayed at the lab. Kendal asked the employee to come in the next day, and a rapid test came back positive.

Testing revealed that no other residents were positive, but two vaccinated employees did test positive, making all three cases breakthrough infections.

Thomas said that although Kendal had no resident cases until recently, it has seen 35 staff cases over the course of the pandemic. 

Vaccine mandate

Kendal at Oberlin has a 100% resident vaccination and was hovering at a 70% vaccination rate when it adopted a staff member vaccine mandate in early August. Staff members have until Oct. 1 to become fully vaccinated or face termination of employment.

Thomas said that the staff vaccination rate is now at 85% and she knows of only four staff members who intend to leave because of the requirement. Although some staff members were uneasy or upset about the mandate, residents said they were relieved, she said.

Staff members who are granted a medical or religious exemption from inoculation will have a personal protective equipment requirement and submit to regular testing.

“Testing is a part of our community as long as COVID is with us,” the CEO said, adding that visitors must be tested before entering a licensed nursing area of the community. 

The future

After a two-week quarantine, the community has returned to regular dining and activities, although mask-wearing is required in common areas. Four tents that were set up around campus will stay in place for anyone who prefers to visit outside. Staff members also can use the tents for lunches or meetings.

Thomas said it’s important to communicate with and educate staff members, residents and families immediately to mitigate fears and clarify any policy changes.

“We’re really urging everyone to remember what we learned over the last 18 months. Delta is with us, but something else will be with us next” she said. “We have to be conscientious. These practices can protect us.”