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New executive director seen the power of teamwork

Managing a senior living community during a pandemic is challenging, and even more so if you’re new to the community.

Christian Gilbert, executive director of Salina Presbyterian Manor, assumed his new position on June 22. A 13-year veteran of the aging services field, he was previously executive director at Clay Center Presbyterian Manor.

On his second day in Salina, he got the news that a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. He and multiple other staff picked up the phone to notify employees, residents and families.

The community also participated in contact tracing and identified other staff who needed to be tested.

“It was a lot of footwork to figure out how we could reduce the risk of spreading it,” Christian said. “And our efforts did just that. I believe we were able to keep it from spreading throughout the building because everybody has worked so hard to follow infection control policies and make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Over the last several weeks, the community has taken small steps toward reopening. Presbyterian Manor is now offering limited communal dining and activities. Residents may make a reservation to eat in the dining room once a day for now. They can participate in small-group exercise in the morning and a group activity in the afternoon, though these are limited to 10 people wearing masks six feet apart from one another.

Residents may also leave the community to keep routine medical appointments without having to quarantine when they return.

Christian’s main concern in reopening the community is avoiding a new case, as that would shut everything down again.

“I’m worried that there’s the chance we could throw our residents and our families into this yo-yo,” he said. “The biggest challenge is going to be reopening slowly and cautiously to reduce the chances of yo-yoing.”

Reopening will continue to happen gradually based on a number of factors, both internal and external. These include staffing and PPE supply levels, cases in the community, access to testing and local hospital capacity. Presbyterian Manor receives updates from the Saline County Health Department that help inform these decisions.

“Family members may see the rest of the community opening up, restaurants opening up, and they don’t understand why we can’t open our doors and let them in,” Christian said. “They appreciate that we’re cautious, but at the same time they are anxious to see their loved ones again.”

But we’re in a “heartbreaking” situation, he said.

“We’ve had to celebrate birthdays and wedding anniversaries through the window, which is challenging,” Christian said. “When your mom has her 100th birthday and you don’t get to hug her, that’s tough. It’s really tough.”

Christian credits the staff at Presbyterian Manor for providing increased emotional support to the residents and performing tasks that family members would ordinarily do. They have kept residents connected with the outside world through video chats and window visits. Staff also bring news from Presbyterian Manor to the wider community via social media.

“We’re doing a lot more Facebook posts so that loved ones can see that even though we’re isolated and shut shown, we’re still keeping the residents as busy and active as possible,” Christian said.

He has been impressed by the power of teamwork. Senior leadership have worked 14-hour days and on weekends to help with screening entrants to the building. Staff at all levels have pitched in to perform tasks outside their job description. Many staff members are helping out with meal deliveries, a labor-intensive but essential process.

“They’re committed to our mission,” Christian said. “They believe in serving seniors and providing them the best experience.

“You know, we’re a family. And when family is in crisis, that’s what you do. You step up and take care of them.”

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