After designating one building on its campus to care for its own residents infected with COVID-19, a North Texas continuing care retirement community has opened its doors to others needing specialized care.

April 17, Presbyterian Village North in Dallas opened its Arbor Place Healthcare building — which had been shuttered the previous eight to nine months — to provide COVID-19 care for nine of its residents, two of whom were independent living residents. The faith-based, nonprofit CCRC offers independent living, assisted living, short-stay rehabilitation services, skilled nursing and certified memory care.

Tim Mallad, CEO of Forefront Living, the parent organization of Presbyterian Village, said the community had just celebrated its 40th anniversary, and the Arbor Place building — the community’s “legacy” building — had been out of commission after the community opened a new transitional rehabilitation unit and scaled back its skilled nursing unit. 

When COVID-19 emerged, he said, the building was deemed an ideal place to house individuals with the virus — it’s empty, it has its own separate entrance and exit and its own air handling system, and it is physically separate from other buildings on the 60-acre campus.

An opportunity

The COVID-19 unit team.

After Presbyterian Village North’s own residents fully recovered, the organization saw an opportunity. Mallad said the community recognized that other senior living and care providers had to designate wings or floors within their existing operations to care for COVID-19 patients. And area hospitals were sending patients more than an hour away to Fort Worth for rehabilitation services.

Presbyterian Village North, he said, is fortunate to have multiple separate buildings on its campus, allowing it the “unique ability to use one building specifically to provide COVID-19 care in complete and safe isolation.”

Presbyterian Village Executive Director Bryan Cooper said he spoke with Dallas County Health and Human Services about using the building as a regional facility to “offer services to patients who don’t require hospitalization, but either cannot care for themselves or need to isolate from their home environments.” He said it was a month-long process to achieve designation to provide medical care to senior adults with COVID-19. The building officially opened to outside patients on June 10.

“There was no application process. It was Bryan and his team. There was no road map for doing this,” Mallad said. “What was not an asset three months ago now is a community asset because of its separation from the rest of the campus.”

The process

Three to five staff members — who volunteered for the appointments — are solely dedicated to serving COVID-19 patients. They are regularly tested for the virus and provide patients with rehabilitation services, including physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Patients are transferred directly to the building from hospitals or other facilities and are housed on the second floor of the three-story building, adding a layer of protection to isolate patients. Food is sent up the elevator without exposing food service or other employees to the unit. Two-person rooms were refreshed into single-patient rooms, with a total capacity for 19 patients. There also is an employee decontamination space.

A total of 18 patients have been treated since the facility opened on April 17 for the CCRC’s own residents.  

One of the consequences of opening the unit means an increase in reported COVID-19 cases. Mallad said although its numbers will be skewed, the community was at the forefront of aggressive testing and reporting transparency, and “serving our community is more important.”

The importance of testing

COVID Testing

Mallad said the community had access to tests early in the pandemic and used those to identify a contract employee who was discharged before the positive result came back. The community used that result to identify and trace a small group of individuals who also had the virus. The community has administered more than 1,000 on-site COVID-19 tests, testing everyone on its campus, from skilled nursing to assisted living to memory support to independent living and third-party caregivers.

“That’s the value of testing and our commitment to testing. It’s really about contact tracing,” Mallad said, adding that the COVID-19 specialized unit will remain open for as long as necessary.

“Until there is a vaccine, COVID-19 is part of our daily lives, so we committed to keeping it open,” Mallad said. “As a not-for-profit and a community resource, that made it obvious we had to seek designation from the county.”

Mallad said there was initial concern from residents initially when Presbyterian Village announced the decision, but they came to “support the organization in doing what’s right.”