Caring through COVID

Lessons learned behind the front lines at Fairway View


Contributed article


As the coronavirus spread across the world in early 2020, Fairway View CEO Dave Rogers worried what might happen if an outbreak occurred at the Ortonville senior communities.


Staff and residents share some stories and laughs. This is a common scene at Fairway View in Ortonville. Contributed photo

“My fear was, are we going to have staff who say, ‘I don’t think I signed up for this?’” Rogers said. “I remember hearing someone at an assisted living home in Minneapolis talk about having their first staff member die from the virus. You fear that, if there is an outbreak, will staff step up? And will we be able to adequately protect them if they do?”


But Rogers quickly learned that his fears were unfounded.


“We didn’t have anyone who said, ‘I want to bow out right now,’” Rogers said. “There was never a question. Everyone stepped up in so many different ways.”


During a roughly one-month period from October to November of that 2020, Fairway View experienced an outbreak among their residents in multiple care units. By Thanksgiving, the spread had been controlled, with no new positive cases at the facility since. Rogers praised the caregiving staff in both the Assisted Living and Memory Care units, who deftly responded to their residents’ changing needs and care priorities with altruism and compassion.


“Many of our caregivers were affected by the virus as well. They were dealing with so much, yet their first priority was being there for our residents,” he said. “I can remember when one of our first residents passed away [from COVID complications] and our staff were there to hold their hand when no one else could. They talked openly about how they felt so good being able to care for them when their families could not.”


Lynette Giossi was one such Fairway View caregiver who felt called to care for sick residents. Giossi, who ultimately tested positive herself due to her proximity to COVID patients, said the difficult period brought into focus the life-affirming importance of compassionate care.


“I learned from working with a pastor that it is a bigger privilege to be with someone when they’re leaving the world than when they’re coming into it,” Giossi said. “I think that, although there’s no making it easier, the families were comforted to know that their loved one wasn’t alone going through this.”


Residents enjoy a game of pool at Fairway Views. Contributed photo

Giossi and her coworkers’ commitment to exceptional caregiving made a tangible difference throughout the Fairway View community. Vera Deyo, a resident at Fairway View Assisted Living, tested positive during the outbreak and recovered well. Her daughter, Sandy Sullivan, said that the exemplary care exhibited by her mother’s caregivers gave her peace of mind—even when she was unable to visit her mother in person for two weeks due to a precautionary self-quarantine.


“We didn’t have any complaints!” Sullivan laughed. “The people (at Fairway View) are just the nicest. They don’t just come in and do their thing; they’re friendly, they talk to you. They actually visit and get to know (the residents and their families.)”


Sullivan also noted that when she was able to resume her visits, the Fairway View staff went above and beyond to help her feel comfortable.


“The staff will call me ahead of time and let me know if there’s anything (Deyo) needs, anything I could bring for her,” she explained. “If I’m in the apartment and they stop by with a snack for her, they’ll stick around and chat for a while, ask if they can get me anything. When I’m there visiting, they take care of me, too.”


Hunter Hofhenke, another Fairway View caregiver, came to the job for that very reason: To bring comfort to residents and their loved ones, no matter the circumstances. At just 18, Hofhenke, who comes from a family of caregivers, specifically requested placement on the COVID caregiving team.


“I wanted to work with the sick residents,” he said. “Just to be there for them, to comfort them and tell them it was going to be okay.”


Hofhenke’s request was granted. During the outbreak, he was present for the passing of at least one COVID patient, and said he was humbled and honored to provide care and peace-of-mind to residents at the end of their lives.


Hofhenke had been a caregiver for only two months before the virus hit, but the experience he had working with sick residents has changed the course of his life forever.


“I wasn’t intending on going to school for nursing until I started working at Assisted Living,” Hofhenke said.


Before joining the caregiving team at Fairway View, Hofhenke had aspirations of becoming a realtor. But he took to caregiving naturally, and saw firsthand the positive impact compassionate care can have on residents. Now, Hofhenke is applying to college with hopes of continuing the family legacy of caregiving as his career.


The entry area at Fairway View Senior Communities in Ortonville. Contributed photo

Silver linings—like Deyo’s strong recovery, or Hofhenke’s self-discovery—are hard-won and badly needed after a year marked by the virus’s deadly path around the globe. But they are surprisingly bountiful despite the circumstances, according to Fairway View housing manager Emily Shelstad.


“It’s a time I never want to relive, but a lot of good things happened,” she said.

Shelstad recalled the moments of light in the dark, the fundamental goodness of humanity that shine beyond COVID’s reach: Staff praying with the sick in their final moments. Pre-shift check-ins on struggling patients. Singing filling the halls, a chorus of caregivers and residents alike.


“Everyone stepped up, throughout the entire organization,” he said. “Even though some devastating things happened, we survived to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re still a living, breathing facility that’s able to care for others. And that’s a blessing.”


Fairway View Senior Communities, a service of the Ortonville Area Health Services, is located at 217 Lundell Avenue in Ortonville. Fairway Views features catered living, assisted living, and long term care all under the same roof. To learn more about Fairway View or to schedule a tour, call 320-487-4398 or visit their web page at www.fairwayview.us.


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