Serving since 1895, Darülaceze (house of the needy) is one of the oldest care homes for the elderly and needy in Istanbul. The facility, which primarily functions as a nursing home nowadays for about 500 residents, managed to stave off the coronavirus pandemic, which had a devastating impact on nursing homes across the world. It boasts zero fatalities from the pandemic, which conventionally targeted elderly and frail people.
Medical staff at the facility takes the main credit for this accomplishment, in a country where daily COVID-19 cases only recently dropped below 20,000. Dr. Filiz Tırtır, the chief physician at Darülaceze, says the main reason behind their success is the number of measures they implemented when the pandemic made its foray into Turkey in 2020 spring.
Coronavirus pandemic claimed millions of lives in one year across the globe. In the United States, eight out of every 10 COVID-19 deaths were among people at the age of 65 and above while senior citizens made up to 60% of coronavirus-related deaths in Europe. European countries, in particular, came under fire for abandoning the elderly at care homes as the pandemic raged on.
Turkey employed utmost caution to protect its senior citizens and for months, it imposed strict lockdowns for millions of people at the age of 65 and above, as well as people with chronic illnesses. Nursing homes also took strict measures though a number of residents succumbed to coronavirus throughout the two years of the outbreak. In Darülaceze, only a few coronavirus cases have been reported since March 2020 but all survived while 17 residents died of natural causes.
Tırtır says apart from restrictions implemented at the facility, they sought to boost the immunity of the residents, with vitamin and mineral supplements and provide healthy diets and exercise opportunities. "The elderly are more defenseless against infectious diseases because their immunity weakens due to advanced age. As an institution, we already pay extra attention to our residents who are in need of good care and this is elevated during the pandemic," Tırtır says.
Darülaceze stopped admitting visitors to the premises before Turkey reported its first coronavirus cases and started taking the temperatures of the staff daily to check for possible coronavirus symptoms. The staff was also trained for proper sanitation for protection against infection. All residents were checked for fever four times a day and anyone with a higher than the usual temperature was taken to the medical ward of the nursing home for further examination. Tırtır says they also routinely disinfected all areas that had the potential of becoming a breeding ground for coronavirus.
The staff was also required to work 14-day shifts without leaving the nursing home, as a precaution and isolation rooms were set up for any potential case. "All staff and residents were required to wear protective masks. We also directed residents who were hospitalized for conditions other than coronavirus to spend 14 days in isolation before readmission to Darülaceze after they are discharged," Tırtır says. During the course of the pandemic, the nursing home switched to single-use items for serving food to residents as an extra measure.
"From day one of the pandemic, we started administering Vitamin D, Omega-3 and zinc supplements and provided them aromatherapy sessions with antiviral features. Their diets were also changed and refined sugar rate in their food was minimized," she added.
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