WAVERLY — Elderwood skilled nursing facility in Waverly has been the site of at least 19 of 21 deaths related to COVID-19 in Tioga County, but now many cases are beginning to result in recoveries.

As of Wednesday, 24 Elderwood residents have recovered from the coronavirus, which has greatly boosted morale, according to Administrator Maria Landy.

“It’s an amazing time for us,” Landy saud. “The 350 team members here have worked really, really hard. Many seven days a week, just trying to take care of everybody safely, and just make sure that they feel the security and the kindness that we want them to feel.”

Elderwood has tagged people who have recovered from the virus “COVID Conquerors.”

“In our mind, that’s a term of endearment, and and of celebration,” Landy said.

Once a person is declared negative for COVID-19, an email is sent to all the staff members to notify them, and let them know what time the celebration will take place.

“We either meet them and greet them on the isolation unit, or as they are returning to their own room,” said Landy.

Staffers then line the hallways and walkways and cheer for the residents as they are transported from an isolation unit back to their room.

To be declared recovered, a person must test negative two times in a row, at least 24 hours apart.

“The ones who are asymptomatic and positive, they now see the people that recovered, and the celebrations that we have. (They) are really excited, and almost planning their recovery,” said Landy.

While some residents are celebrating their recoveries, others remain frustrated in isolation. Some of them don’t even feel sick.

“(There are) many seniors who are still asymptomatic but still testing positive. So we test them, on a regular basis, and unfortunately some of them are still testing positive, and they’re frustrated by that,” Landy said. “But they’re also excited about the possibility of being one of those conquerors relatively soon, and moving back to their own room.”

“We have people who have tested positive six weeks in a row, and nothing is different. It’s one of those mysteries.”

Early on, the pandemic took Elderwood by surprise, similar to many nursing homes across the country.

“There were days beforehand when we were surprised at the number of residents that had the virus, and particularly the number that were asymptomatic,” Landy said.

“Once we had our first few cases, we decided, along with our corporate office, that it made all the sense in the world to test every single person in the building,” she added.

While the number of recoveries is increasing, Elderwood has also had to deal with the unfortunate deaths caused by complications of COVID-19.

“I think it’s always difficult to lose a friend, and without a doubt, the seniors here are our friends first,” Landy said. “We care for them deeply, as we do for their families.”

Landy emphasized communication with the families of the residents who tested positive.

“When they were diagnosed with COVID, we were very up front and transparent with families, and sharing with them ‘Here (are) their signs and symptoms. Here is what we are doing for them,’” she said. “We certainly then reviewed all life plans or advanced directives with the families and the residents.”

Many seniors, including those in palliative care, chose to remain at Elderwood.

“Overwhelmingly, they wanted to remain with their caregivers and the people that they knew in the place that they called home,” Lansy said. “They chose to work under the palliative care programs and pass away here with people that they knew and they loved.”

Landy said these difficult times helped put things into perspective for the staff.

“I think it has reminded us all about our true purpose, in terms of being a caregiver, and that it is a privilege to be able to care for these people,” she said “Now more than never, they need us.”

She also commended them for their hard work.

“I couldn’t feel more honored to work with the people that I work with,” she said.

As more and more people recover, Landy said the focus at Elderwood is beginning to shift to creating and preserving a COVID-free environment.

Additionally, she said she was grateful for the outpouring of support for Elderwood staff and residents.

“We certainly appreciate the tremendous amount of support that we received from the community,” she said.

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