When it was revealed that Covid-19 was spreading in a dementia ward at Gladys Mary Care Home, Hawke's Bay started preparing for the worst. Remarkably, staff stopped the spread. Sahiban Hyde reports.
This is a story about how one retirement home's tireless and persistent use of personal protective equipment killed Covid-19.
"Most superheroes wear capes," says Vickilee Flynn. "Our heroes wore PPE."
Sixty-one days ago Flynn, grand-daughter of Gladys Mary Care Home resident Hazel Ashton, was scared.
A resident who had just moved into the dementia ward at the care home had contracted the virus from a visitor who had been exposed to the virus by Ruby Princess cruise ship passengers.
At that same time an explosion of Ruby Princess Covid-19 cases was popping up in New South Wales.
It was a harrowing time, to say the least.
"Initially we were scared and anxious, it was a rollercoaster of emotions for our family," Hazel Ashton said.
She is 84 and had been a resident at the care home since February.
She's high risk when it comes to Covid-19, just like everyone else. In the dementia ward the oldest member is 94, the youngest is 70.
The six who tested positive within those walls were aged between 74 and 84.
That everyone recovered, and that it stayed at just six residents, is a testament to the care home's "incredibly brave" staff, manager John Drinkwater says.
"Wearing PPE for 61-plus days was a struggle, but they demonstrated amazing resilience and the whole experience has actually strengthened the team," he said.
Getting a dementia community through a pandemic presented staff with a particularly unique challenge, he said.
"On some levels the dementia community understood what was happening," Drinkwater said.
"Residents with dementia respond to routine and so throughout isolation this was interrupted but they did respond incredibly well.
"The change in routine was helped though by increased interactions with the staff they are familiar with."
The care home sent home its immunocompromised staff, and worked to ensure it was able to maintain appropriate staff levels.
"We effectively created a dementia community bubble and introduced an isolation barrier between the 14 dementia community residents and the 22 rest home residents," he said.
"This is what prevented any spread across the care home."
Cooper and Drinkwater said they were grateful for the support provided by Public Health and Hawke's Bay District Health Board.
"We were all learning about the virus as it was unfolding and I am incredibly grateful for their support," Drinkwater said.
Bupa managing director Carolyn Cooper said when the first case occurred in the dementia community it was "impossible" to isolate it individually.
"So we isolated our entire dementia community as one bubble.
"The families understandably were concerned at the time, yet supportive of the precautions we were taking."
Cooper said all 14 residents with dementia were "safely and securely" kept in their own bubble within the care home with staff successfully carrying out infection, prevention and control measures.
"Strict protocols were in place, including wearing appropriate PPE equipment and ensuring the highest hygiene standards," Cooper said.
There was a minimum of three staff members in the dementia community on each shift caring for the 14 residents across three shifts - the morning, afternoon and night duty, she said.
"The team was fully supported during lockdown with special leave and accommodation if needed, a temporary pay increase and a grocery voucher," Cooper said.
"Both the care home manager and clinical manager regularly updated family members with phone calls and emails. We also provided a dedicated mobile phone and laptop for video and phone calls.
"The care home also encouraged video calling between residents and families which was co-ordinated by our staff.
"Through careful management, teamwork, positive partnerships with Public Health and Hawke's Bay District Health Board, and strictly following Ministry of Health guidance, we have come out thankfully with everyone recovered," Cooper said.
"I'm so proud of the entire team and the way in which they responded so quickly and efficiently.
"I am presenting them each with a gift voucher and a personal letter from Dr Ashley Bloomfield, director-general of health. I'm in awe of our incredible team and their 'person first' approach, which is at the heart of our Bupa purpose and values."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in town on Friday, joined the chorus of praise for staff.
"Obviously, it was a significant cluster here. The health sector in Hawke's Bay along with the staff who isolated themselves did an amazing job. It was a huge effort and they should be congratulated."
Flynn said she was in awe.
"The personal sacrifice of staff speaks volumes, they went to work every day knowing about Covid, and they still looked after the residents with utmost care.
"She [Hazel] had daily contact with people, which is important, because elderly people can feel lonely and isolated."
She said the lockdown was the longest her and her mother went without seeing Ashton, but the staff ensured they didn't worry.
"The fact that only six of them ended up testing positive with Covid-19 shows what an incredible job they did. Most superheroes wear capes, our heroes wore PPE."