On a typical work day early this spring, Crystal Bouse, CMA, changed her personal protective equipment (PPE) more than 20 times a day while she was treating patients in the newly created COVID-19 wing at Victorian Place of St. Clair operated by Americare.
She said she learned things during the frightening and uncertain time at the onset of the pandemic that she will carry with her from now on.
“The human spirit is amazing. It can get through anything,” Bouse said. “People were trusting us to take care of their loved one when they couldn’t even hold their hands.”
Americare received a waiver from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to establish Victorian Place of St. Clair as a specialized COVID-19 Care Site under the license of its skilled nursing community, St. Clair Skilled Nursing Center. It was the only facility in Franklin County to have a designated unit for COVID-19 patients.
Pat Cokingtin, Americare senior vice president, said the COVID-19 wing was set up as a proactive attempt to stop the spread of the virus at the facility.
Bouse, 41, an Americare eldercare adviser, volunteered to work in the specialized unit. She was there for eight weeks, beginning in mid-April until the unit was dismantled the first week in June.
In all, 11 COVID-19-positive Victorian Place residents were moved into the wing and one resident of Victorian Place of Sullivan was transferred there.
One of the residents had to be hospitalized and later died due to issues related to the virus.
“It took an incredibly dedicated team of nurses, nursing assistants and therapists to operate our special care site,” Cokingtin said. “They deserve all of the credit here. They care deeply for each resident they serve.”
Bouse said the mini celebrations every time a resident had good stats helped with resident and staff morale.“I wasn’t scared in the unit because I knew I was protected by my PPE,” Bouse said. “I was actually more scared of going to the gas station.”
Although comfortable herself, she could see the fear in the eyes of the residents who had received positive test results.
“We spent a lot of time calming fears,” Bouse said. “It’s hard enough to be in assisted living. All the early news coming in on the television said having the virus was a death sentence. It’s just not true.”
In addition to calming patients’ fears, the nurses also worked with families, who were cut off from their loved ones when they needed them most. “Watching families just want to reach out and couldn’t. That really hurt,” Bouse said. “Seeing residents who were sick and going through it without their families was hard. They couldn’t even comfort each other.”
Bouse, who lives in Steelville, followed a strict routine when her workday was over in an effort to not bring the virus home to her three children, ages 20, 18 and 6.
“Every day on my way home, when I’d get to Cuba, I’d call home and make sure my son was occupied so he wouldn’t run right up to me,” Bouse said. “I would pull into the garage, go straight into the laundry room and put my clothes directly into the washer.”
Just like the residents she cared for all day, Bouse had to quarantine from family members. “I was raised by my grandparents,” Bouse said. “I didn’t get to see them from the end of March into July.”
Despite the fears and tears, there have been some bright spots during pandemic. “I have a lot more respect for frontline caregivers and a lot more compassion for our residents and their families,” Bouse said.
In the early days of the virus in Franklin County, long-term care facilities were especially hard hit with positive cases and the majority of deaths in the county were residents of those facilities.
“I don’t know that anything more could have been done,” Bouse said. “Our management stayed on top of CDC guidelines, and we followed policies and procedures that kept everyone safe. I’m blessed that this is where I work.”
Bouse currently oversees Americare facilities in Sullivan, Cuba, Owensville, Vienna and Rolla.