Canby’s Country Side Living is Covid-Free

For the first time in more than a month, Country Side Living is Covid-free. The licensed nursing home in downtown Canby, which serves only residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, was the site of the city’s first-known outbreak of the novel coronavirus in a senior care facility.

The first resident, a 93-year-old woman, tested positive on April 17 and was hospitalized two days later. She later died from complications of Covid-19 and other underlying medical conditions, as did the second resident to be diagnosed, an 83-year-old.

The virus ultimately spread to 13 people whose cases were linked to the facility, including eight residents and three staff members.

But as of this week, the last resident to be infected has met the Oregon Health Authority and CDC standards for recovery. The Oregon Department of Human Services no longer lists Country Side as a Covid-19 restricted facility, and it can once again start accepting new admissions.

“I can tell you, at our staff meetings yesterday, there was an atmosphere of lightness and joy for the first time in a while,” Country Side spokeswoman Michele Quinn said Saturday. “The owners were there as we honored the employees for all their dedication to our residents and hard work during the outbreak.”

Owners Erik and Kristen Berkey have been “hands-on” during the outbreak. Kristen Berkey — a “great cook,” according to Country Side staff, has been in the facility’s kitchen most days, preparing meals.

Employees like Brenda Wilberg, formerly a dietary aide at Thelma’s Place but who has been filling in with the activities staff since that program was shut down in the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, say they have been “eating very well,” thanks to Kristen.

“The owners have been right in there, working alongside them,” Wilberg said of staff in Country Side’s north building, where the outbreak was isolated. “They are truly inspiring and appreciative of all of us hanging in there and working to keep our residents safe and healthy.”

Erik Berkey, who opened Country Side over two decades ago as the culmination of a childhood dream, has been providing direct care to residents for the first time in years, helping residents into and out of bed, giving baths.

“I wasn’t going to ask anybody to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself,” he said. “The staff here have been simply amazing. We put that sign up that says, ‘Heroes Work Here,’ because we really believe that. We want all of Canby know.”

Erik Berkey, owner of Country Side Living, discusses the outbreak on May 5. Photo by Tyler Francke.

Berkey’s vision for Country Side grew out of his experiences visiting his neighbor and family members at nursing homes as a boy. He remembers them as dark, closed places that smelled bad, where residents would sometimes lie in bed all day, alone, because the facilities were understaffed.

He wanted to “build a good home for the elderly,” a place where the staff are friendly and accessible, where the care model was centered around community activities and time spent outdoors at events, parks, gardens and in the facility’s spacious enclosed patio.

Virtually none of that has been allowed since the pandemic started.

“That’s been one of the most difficult parts of all this, how we’ve had to change almost everything we do,” he said. “The residents having to be isolated, not able to go outside. That’s not Country Side. That’s not what we’re about.”

Though it generally operates as one facility, Country Side has two licensed buildings, separated by Fir Street. The outbreak began in Country Side North, the larger of the two, and staff implemented an isolation strategy that had proven successful in past outbreaks.

CSL North staff were not allowed to enter CSL South, and vice versa. Items, equipment and other stuff — like food that was donated by a number of local restaurants and organizations — could be received at the south building and shuttled to the north one in a cart, but anything received at North had to stay there.

The strategy worked. No Country Side South resident or staff member ever showed symptoms of Covid-19.

“We have such praise for the staff in South building for their resilience and diligence in keeping the virus out,” said Quinn. “I know, at times during this experience and due to the complete separation of our operations in each building, they had felt a bit isolated, but they persevered and grew stronger as a team.”

Erik Berkey and Michele Quinn. Photo by Tyler Francke.

Quinn said the staff is so grateful for the community’s support during the outbreak. They continue to enforce all precautionary measures recommended by the state and public health officials to, hopefully, prevent another one.

The virus still poses a serious threat to the vulnerable population they serve, even more so as the strictest coronavirus lock-down measures are relaxed across the state. A second care home in Canby, Marquis Hope Village, reported a Covid-19 outbreak just this weekend, one that has been linked to at least 18 confirmed cases.

“It may seem cliché, but the feeling of ‘a weight being lifted’ definitely describes the mood among staff and residents at Country Side Living right now,” said Quinn. “We will continue to be cautious and follow guidelines to keep everyone safe, but we can do that now with a confidence inspired by facing those hard times and coming through them together.”

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