Bay Bluffs maintaining safety protocols; struggling financially during pandemic

Bay Bluffs, Emmet County’s Medical Care Facility, has been holding a defensive line to protect its residents since March, when COVID-19 first made its way into northern Michigan. And thanks to protocols put in place by the State of Michigan, the virus has, so far, not spread beyond the three asymptomatic staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 recently (all work in the same department, and none work in direct contact with patients).

“We are continuing to hold our breath, but the first batch of resident tests have all come back negative,” said executive director Lisa Ashley. “We just finished testing all of our residents again today. Our staff has been getting tested weekly since mid-July, which is why we discovered the three COVID-19 positive cases. The safety measures put in place worked, because none of these staff members were symptomatic.”

Nursing homes around the country have been ravaged by COVID-19, and Ashley said she is grateful for the multiple layers of requirements Michigan has in place to protect staff and residents.

“Since mid-July, we’ve seen our case numbers in Emmet County go from 21 to almost 100,” Ashley said. “We followed the protocol, and it did what it was supposed to do.” Bay Bluffs is now in the middle of 14 days of monitoring to be sure no additional new cases come up.

“It’s a very trying and scary time. We communicate every week with our families, and immediately if I have three or more staff out sick for any reason, as well as obviously if we have a positive case. I want our families to know– and I think they do– that since this started our singular focus has been keeping our residents and staff members healthy and safe,” Ashley said.

Family visitation remains limited to end of life or hospice care only. Ashley said this is the most painful and difficult part of the pandemic.

“Nothing replaces immediate access and face-to-face connection, and we know that,” she said. “Our families have been wonderfully supportive of our efforts to keep everyone safe, but my heart is always with them. This is so hard.”

Bay Bluffs is currently at 78-percent occupancy, and will not accept new residents until they have been clear of new COVID-19 cases for more than 14 days. Even before the staff members tested positive, however, occupancy has remained low due to additional safety concerns and precautions.

“It’s been a challenge since early March, as we want– and must– be so careful transferring people here from a hospital setting,” Ashley said.

Occupancy was at 80-percent in June, and declined to the mid-70s in July. While Bay Bluffs continues to have an extensive waiting list, families who can afford in-home care are opting to do so, in order to avoid moving their loved one into a nursing home during a time where visitors are not allowed.

According to an update provided to the Emmet County Board of Commissioners, budget development for 2021 is underway, utilizing the best financial and operational resources possible to build or rebuild Bay Bluffs’ business plan.

“Facilities with operational millages are in better position to weather this pandemic as are those for-profit entities whose parent companies are receiving federal funds to offset corporate losses,” the update noted.

Bay Bluffs is supposed to pay Emmet County $155,000 of debt service on the bond taken out by the County to pay for needed capital improvements at the medical care facility this year. However, the report said the staff is “not confident that they will be able to meet that commitment for this year because of ongoing Covid 19 uncertainties.”

“What happens with other businesses or schools that have a positive case is nothing compared to the necessary precautions and uncertainties we face,” Ashley said. “We are doing everything we can to ensure our people are safe, and we continue holding tight like everyone else, because we have no idea where the next few months will take us.” When asked what people in the community might be able to do to support the ongoing heroic efforts of the staff at Bay Bluffs, and cheer the residents inside, Ashley had a simple, poignant request: weed the gardens.

“We are like a fortress here, and honestly, we don’t have time to worry about anything happening outside our building, because all that matters is the well-being of those inside,” she said. “So if you have a little extra time, and you want to help with the gardens out front, that would bring a smile to our faces.”

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