#AdAstraStrong Star Stories: Michelle and Willie Novotny

“Ad astra per aspera” is the state motto of Kansas, which translates to “to the stars through difficulties” – a sentiment that has never felt more true than it does today. It emphasizes our values and optimism that, even when faced with the most difficult hardships, we come together as a state and keep our sights set on what’s important. We launched our #AdAstraStrong campaign to highlight “stars” throughout Kansas who are going above and beyond to give back to their community and provide hope during these challenging times. Stay tuned for more star stories and stay #AdAstraStrong.

If you know a Kansas “star” who is shining bright and helping others during the COVID-19 outbreak, nominate them on Facebook by sharing a brief description of their story with the #AdAstraStrong hashtag or email us at social@bcbsks.com. We can’t wait to tell more stories about the inspiring people who are embodying the strength and resiliency of Kansas right now.

We are excited to recognize our next star, Michelle and Willie Novotny, owners of Cornerstone Healthcare Solutions. Michelle works as the Executive Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer and oversees clinical operations. Willie is the CEO and CFO as well as a licensed Nursing Home Administrator and oversees the financial and legal services. Cornerstone owns and operates nursing homes in Kansas and Missouri, including one in Clearwater, Kan. that became a cluster site for COVID-19 cases. Michelle and Willie spent nearly a month working on site in Clearwater to assist their staff. We talked with Michelle to learn more about the cluster in Clearwater and the quick action she and Willie took to keep their patients and staff safe.

How did your team respond when the cluster was identified?

We were prepared.  Starting in March we had begun holding bi-weekly phone calls with all of our leadership staff at all of our communities and the home office to implement plans, have everyone give a status update and go over precautions and procedures that were changing on a daily basis.  We knew the data from the beginning was going to drive this virus toward senior communities and while the goal was to prevent, we knew at some point we may have an outbreak.  We all had our roles lined out regarding what we needed to do and we jumped into them.

We have a strong team and we are very proud of how everyone responded.  There were, of course, many fears to deal with, but we put those aside and just focused on the job at hand.  It didn’t matter what our positions were before we just needed to jump in.  I worked most of the time as a charge nurse on the floor providing direct care and my husband did maintenance and housekeeping whenever we needed to.

What kind of safety precautions did you put in place to help stop the spread?

We had already been following all CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) guidelines for infection control, with regard to limiting visitors. Most importantly we monitored all residents’ vitals for evidence of symptoms multiple times per day and consulted with our Medical Director any time we were concerned about anyone. When we discovered we had a positive case within the building, all residents were quarantined to their rooms and placed on droplet precautions through the remainder of the outbreak. We had worked hard before the outbreak to acquire several thousand items of vital PPE (personal protective equipment) including N95 masks, so we did not have an issue immediately providing staff everything they needed to be safe.  When residents needed to leave their rooms, such as for receiving baths, they were required to wear a mask. We immediately tested all residents and care planned for them according to their diagnosis per CDC and CMS guidelines. 

How do you keep a positive work environment for your staff during these challenging times?

Food. We worked with the local grocery store to purchase chips, snacks, sodas that they sat outside for one of our staff to pick up and we had them readily available in a conference room for staff around the clock. We also had many local people, businesses and other nursing homes in the area send in meals for all the staff on multiple days. We also added additional staff for support during the outbreak, since the residents required more observation and assessment and also to help with supporting the staff.

Most importantly we just needed to reassure people that even though we’re all scared, we were all going to figure this out together and everything was going to be ok.

Is there anything else you’d like to share for this story or tell your community?

We are not the story.  We’re just doing what we do.  The story is that there is a lot of bad press out there about nursing homes right now. There are thousands of people out there just like us, and just like our staff who are working really hard to keep people as safe as possible through something none of us have ever experienced before and none of us have all the answers for.  There should be more opportunities to tell these kinds of stories and more people interested in reading them.  We appreciate the opportunity.

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