Staff members of Big Bend Retreat, a nursing home that’s been part of the Slater community for more than 50 years, mark the 50th day of their self-quarantine on Mother’s Day, May 10. (Big Bend photo)

SLATER, Mo. – When Saline County was one of the state’s hot spots for COVID-19 this spring, residents at Big Bend Retreat nursing home in Slater were some of the most vulnerable to the virus. Big Bend’s care staff took their responsibility to a heightened level by self-quarantining with residents for 50 days.

Big Bend Retreat administrator Emily Hahn recalls those uncertain times.

“We were unsure of what was going to happen to our community and the surrounding area, and I think everyone was glad of what we did,” she said. “We had no idea what was going to happen, so we wanted to keep our residents safe.”

Staff slept in vacant residential rooms, with occasional breaks to go to their own homes, she said. Big Bend, a fixture in Slater for more than 50 years, went into self-quarantine on March 22 until Mother’s Day on May 10.

“They (the residents) are our family. We really care about everybody here. We’d hate to see anyone … ,” Hahn said, hesitating, “We don’t want a situation like that, at all.”

With that kind of commitment, many individuals reached out to show their appreciation to the 24 employees who care for Big Bend’s 29 residents. The staff received free meals, residents were treated to artwork from children and flowers from Granddaddy’s Garden were provided free of charge to beautify the facility’s garden areas, Hahn said.

The efforts have paid off, so far.

“We still have no COVID.  Knock on wood. We are still taking a lot of precautions,” Hahn said.

Anyone entering the facility – which is mostly employees and vendors who must be present – are required to wear a mask. Clothes must be clean and not previously worn, and employees must wear shoes only designated for that facility. Temperature checks are also the norm, Hahn said.

“Within the last couple of weeks, we’ve eased up (restrictions) because of the opening up of the state. It’s disheartening seeing the numbers in Missouri continue to rise,” said Hahan, who been administrator there for the past 3 years.

Because of improving local COVID-19 conditions, Big Bend is now cautiously allowing face-to-face visits for residents and their loved ones.

“A lot of residents who like to be in and out a lot, visiting outdoors has helped a lot, actually getting to see their family and not just through a window,” she said. Prior to the easing of restrictions, the nursing home utilized Facetime and separated visits where families remained outdoors and saw their loved ones through one of the facility’s windows. Hahn added that families “were just great and very understanding” of the difficult situation.

Residents are also starting to connect with the Slater community again.

Jackie Jones, of Hundred Acre Woods Farms in Nelson, brought her horse and pony, bedecked in “heroes” and “love” themes for residents to pet.

“That lifted their spirits so much,” Hahn said.

Residents and healthcare staff were also treated to honks of support at Slater’s cruise night recently.

Looking toward the fall and winter, Hahn says the nursing home will remain vigilant against the spread of COVID-19. Masks are essential to her safety plan.

“I really feel what we doing now  – and I know it’s disheartening  to some – to wear masks, but I really feel that’s the safest way. We’re really hoping for a vaccine, just like everyone else,” she said.