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The first two patients to die of COVID in Chatham County, Georgia, on March 24 and 29, were Arnold and Lorlee Tenenbaum, married for 60 years. They had visited their adult daughters in New York and attended a family reunion, then showed symptoms of the infection on their return to the Savannah area. Arnold subsequently died in the hospital, but Lorlee, 84, was referred to hospice and able to die in her apartment, with two of her daughters present.
"My mother stopped eating and drinking and started having breathing issues. We had a health care proxy directive signed, and we knew we weren't going to intubate her,” her daughter Margot Tenenbaum says. “We called Hospice Savannah and their director was an angel. She said, ‘No one will be turned away, but give me a little time to find some protective gear and send out a nurse,’ “ she says.
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"Our hospice nurse came with disposable gear and really added to the humanity of our experience. She was available, relaxed. They were all warm and informative, even when we called with questions in the middle of the night."
New procedures, protocols to deal with COVID-19
After dealing with challenges earlier in the pandemic, many hospices across the country say they are now ready and waiting to help with more COVID-19 patients. They needed to find PPE for their staff, carefully institute infection-prevention guidelines, and find ways to screen staff and patients for infection or elevated temperatures. Hospice Savannah, for instance, recently opened a dedicated wing for patients who are COVID positive, or suspected to be, and who need inpatient hospice care outside of their homes. It has its own entrance and separate staff, taking up half of the 17-bed facility.
"The first few weeks around here were just bedlam — to suddenly have clinicians needing to take care of COVID patients,” says Lynne Sexten, president and CEO of Agrace Hospice and Palliative Care, based in Madison, Wisconsin.
"PPE was a big issue at first, but now things have settled in. We opened a hospice incident command center immediately and made a point of having our best and brightest involved,” Sexton says. “We also created a surge plan, but haven't had to use it."