LYON – While the coronavirus was sneaking into retirement homes, cutting a deadly path, Valérie Martin swore that the story would be different in the house she runs in France.
The action she took to prevent the virus from infecting and killing the vulnerable elderly in her care was both drastic and effective: Martin and his staff locked themselves up with the 106 residents.
For 47 days and nights, staff and residents of Vilanova nursing home on the outskirts of east-central Lyon city waited together for the coronavirus storm, while COVID-19 killed tens of thousands people in other homes across Europe, including over 9,000 in France.
” I said no. Not mine. My people still have so much to live for, “said Martin in an interview.” I don’t want this virus to kill them when they have gone through so much. “
Monday, Martin and 12 colleagues who stayed at home for the duration ended their quarantine with hugs of celebration and song, and with an uplifting victory: the coronavirus tests performed on residents and staff are all negative income. The caregivers, who called themselves “the happy ones confined”, left in a convoy of cars, sounding horns and heading towards a reunion with families, pets and houses.
“We did it,” said Martin. “Every day, every hour, it was a victory. “
While COVID-19 killed dozens of people in other homes, Martin said there were only four dead in Vilanova during their lockdown and that none appeared to be linked to the virus. The average age of residents at home is 87 and the number of deaths is not unexpected, she said.
Because staff and residents were locked up together, Vilanova did not have to confine people to their rooms like other homes to protect them from the risk of infection from outside. This has saved residents from the loneliness that agonizes others. Vilanova allowed residents to continue mingling and getting fresh air outside.
Martin said that she did not want her residents to feel like “prisoners” and that it would not have seemed fair to her if she had continued to come and go from the house while depriving them of their liberty during the locking of France, in place since March 17.
Residents were confined to their rooms for two days at the start while the staff cleaned the house thoroughly, and it turned out to be “a disaster,” said Martin.
“In two days, we have already seen people who started not wanting to eat, people who did not want to get up, people who said,” Why are you washing me? It’s useless, “she said,
In all, 29 of the 50 employees volunteered to stay, bringing pillows, sleeping bags and clothing on March 18 for what they initially thought was a three-week stay but then chose to extend it . Other staff came from outside to help and were kept away from residents and forced to wear masks and other protective measures to prevent infections.
Caregivers slept on mattresses on the floor. Martin was sleeping in his office. One of the volunteers left a 10 month old baby at home. The team counted the days on a blackboard marked, “Always with heart. “
Martin said his priority now is to console his separated cat, Fanta. And one of the strangest moments in the lockout was getting back into her car and hearing the same song on the CD player – the soundtrack to Limp Bizkit’s “Mission Impossible” that she listened to when she ‘was parked seven weeks earlier.
“It was a bit like going into a summer camp,” she said. “Living in isolation with 130 people is extremely rewarding.”
Leicester reported by Le Pecq, France
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