Health and Wellness

Keeping everyone safe in a time of pandemic

Keeping everyone safe in a time of pandemic

Melanie Harlowe’s days are busy enough in normal times. As Quality Assurance Nurse, she monitors every aspect of life at Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge (WCBR), ensuring safety and correct procedures to protect the health of residents and staff. 

She tracks health problems and use of medication. She checks lights, windows, and walls. She makes sure everyone is washing hands properly. She even checks to see that food is cooked to the correct temperature.

But she is also the Infection Control Nurse, which means that lately, she’s been busier than ever.

The COVID Task Force

As a key member of the COVID Task Force, Melanie is one of the reasons Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge is one of the safest places anyone can be during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Melanie is a dynamo, and she has played an invaluable role in getting both residents and staff through this difficult time safely,” said Gary B. Selmeczi, President and CEO of WCBR. “Our whole community has risen to this challenge, but Melanie’s contribution has been unique. She keeps us on track with all the latest best practices from state and national authorities.”

The task force met daily for weeks, before cutting back to three times a week in late May. The members reviewed what was happening, with regard to COVID, throughout Virginia and in the local Thomas Jefferson Health District. And they focused like a laser on the safety of residents and staff at WCBR. They reviewed policies and procedures, and discussed pending tests for infection.

The policies have been working.

Guarding the gate

It all starts at the gate that everyone has to pass through to get into WCBR. Everyone gets his or her temperature checked and has to turn around and head home if there is any sign of fever. Staff members who fail the test must go home and check in by phone. If their own doctors can’t test them, they’re told to come back, where they get tested in the parking lot.

Once people are cleared to enter, Melanie and the other members of the task force make sure they stay safe. Everyone in the healthcare areas wears an N95 mask, for which they are carefully fit-tested. Less-stringent standard masks have been used everywhere else on the campus.

For weeks, residents stayed in their own apartments and cottages for the most part, minimizing risk. Toward the end of May, services started opening up – such as the beauty salon and the library. That presented the Task Force with another challenge – establishing procedures to make the reopening as safe as the lockdown was.

From the beginning, everyone has pitched in. Early on, when masks were relatively scarce, residents made hundreds of masks and shared them with all.

Hard work pays off

The hard work has paid off. Only one resident has been infected since the pandemic began. On May 14, the Virginia National Guard came out and tested everyone – residents and staff – in the healthcare areas. “Everyone was tested in the care areas,” said Melanie, and not one person tested positive for COVID.

Melanie is originally from right here in Charlottesville. Her initial bachelor’s degree at University of Virginia was in sociology and economics, but working as a research assistant for a doctor at the university persuaded her to become a nurse.

Since then, she’s worked with patients at all stages of life, starting in pediatric and neonatal intensive care. She has also treated inmates in a correctional facility. She was teaching a Certified Nursing Assistant class at a high school when she brought her students to WCBR to do clinical trials.

She enjoyed that so much, and WCBR was so impressed with her, that she joined the staff three years ago.

She loved her new job because “It felt like a family here.” She enjoyed being part of a team, working with the other associates and interacting with residents.

She still enjoys it. And Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge enjoys having her here – and deeply appreciates the life-saving role she plays.

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