Senior care and assisted living facilities throughout Duluth began to raise their drawbridges on Friday as response to the COVID-19 pandemic intensified throughout the Northland.

Essentia Health, Diamond Willow Assisted Living and Keystone Bluffs (in Duluth only) all announced they were restricting visitors beginning Friday, drawing back social calls, screening guests and limiting visits to residents who are in changing or declining health.

"Maintaining the health, wellness and safety of our senior care residents is our top priority," Essentia Health spokesperson Louie St. George III said in a Friday news release. "We have plans in place and can respond quickly and efficiently should the virus affect a resident, caregiver or visitor."

Essentia said it will follow guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to limit the potential transmission of COVID-19, which is known to have more chilling effects on older populations and those people with underlying health conditions.

"To protect its residents, caregivers and family," the following restrictions were being implemented by Essentia Health:

  • Access will be granted to essential visitors only, meaning visits related to a change in a resident's condition or a loved one being at the end of life;
  • Essential visits will be limited between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.;
  • Everyone entering facilities will undergo screenings at the entrance.

Diamond Willow and Keystone Bluffs will be restricting visitors for the next 30 days, CEO Natalie Zeleznikar said in a news release Friday.

"We recognize this is an inconvenience and hardship for many," she said. "However, with the current pandemic status, and cases growing in Minnesota, we will do everything we can to protect our seniors. ... We know that should any of them contract this, they will have severe illness."

All doors will be locked, Zeleznikar said, and visits restricted to family members with loved ones in "critical imminent health changes or on hospice with critical changes," she said.

Spouses will also be allowed entry. Visitors will fill out a questionnaire and body temperature checks may be requested.

All entertainment programming, gatherings and events are postponed for Essentia, Diamond Willow and Keystone Bluffs.

"We are committed to safeguarding the health and wellness of residents and preventing the spread of illness," St. George said.

Zeleznikar said Diamond Willow and Keystone Bluffs will continue to admit new residents and placements from hospitals, nursing homes and their residential homes.

"We do not want our seniors to not be able to be placed," she said.

Zeleznikar struck a defiant note.

"We will get through this," she said. "Our seniors know what a pandemic is all about. ... They have lived through these events before."

She encouraged visitors to call ahead. Diamond Willow is located in Alexandria, Baxter, Cloquet, Detroit Lakes, Grand Rapids, Mountain Iron, Park Rapids, Proctor, Little Falls and Duluth-Lester Park.

Essentia Health restrictions are in place for Essentia Health-Homestead in Deer River, Essentia Health-Northern Pines Care Center in Aurora and Essentia Health-Virginia Care Center in Virginia.

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