Today is March 6. It is the one year anniversary of our facility lockdown. Who could have known the mess we would all be in for the next year? (That’s a rhetorical question. I am aware that the epidemiologists probably knew.) Given the anniversary, I am feeling so many mixed emotions. Sit with me for a minute, if you can bear it.

On March 6, 2020, when we locked down our nursing facility, I was honestly thinking it would be for a few weeks. I thought Covid would blow over LA and we would return to normal. If I knew then what I know now, would I have made the same decision? I don’t know, but over the last year the thing that hurt my heart the most was knowing that many of my residents died alone and of loneliness. (We allowed compassion visits for the dying, but sometimes people passed by surprise, and on many occasions families were too scared to come in.) Within two weeks of lockdown all activities were ordered to stop and most residents stopped leaving their rooms. The music stopped playing in the activity rooms and my most vivid memory is of our famous pianist with dementia playing to a completely empty, unlit dining room.

With prayers, good strategies, and a team that committed to stay together through the storm no matter how horrible, we hung on for dear life while Covid burnt through the rest of Los Angeles.

And then we got our first resident case.

I don’t think I can properly describe how fast Covid can move through a nursing station. One week you have one case, then suddenly three, then 12, and before you know it, you keep moving the wall of the Covid unit further and further back. Simultaneously the staff are dropping off. The calls would come 24/7, literally. “I don’t feel well.” “I am coughing.” “My husband tested positive.” Etc. Etc. Etc. I must have repeated the protocol over 200 times. “Go get tested immediately. Quarantine in a room. Don’t communicate with your family and hope nobody else gets sick. You will be in my prayers.” The staff that remained standing worked 7 to 10 to 14 days straight, sometimes in double shifts to make sure the residents were cared for. Sometimes we wanted to cry, sometimes to yell. “How the HELL did a case pop up on the other side of the building?!?!!!” “Who the HELL infected so and so?!?!” “Hell,” was the right word. “Who needs to go to the hospital?” “Whose family needs to see them one more time?” “When is so-and-so finally coming back to work?”And the 9 million calls with California Department of Health, Cal OSHA, Los Angeles Acute Disease Prevention nurses, and families. At some point I called CDPH in tears asking for a “damn break” when a surveyor walked in being unkind to us about something petty. If you know me or have ever dealt with CDPH, you know that’s a new low.

There was no time to process, to think, to rest, or to sleep. We just had to keep moving, doing, counting, reporting and breathing. Breathing was hard, literally and figuratively.

Then came the newsletters that I had to write within 24 hours of every positive case. Thank God for Constant Contact, but in how many ways can you describe the bloody mess of a train wreck that you are living through to the people who entrusted their mom in your care? All I could emphasize is that no matter what, we were still there. And we were. Through sickness, health, hospitalizations, and horror all around us and for some, even in our own households. We pacified ourselves with saying that Covid is inevitable and we will all eventually live through it.

And then our first employee died.

I was the one who called her to notify her of her positive Covid result and helped her arrange the hotel room in which she was eventually found passed out. She was so grateful for my assistance and that she kept her family safe. That conversation burns in my memory. If I wasn’t so damn helpful, would she still be here? God rest her soul and help mine.

Of course there was also the testing. To date, 56 + Covid tests to be exact. First day, the staff complained. “Ouch, my nose!” “What is this?!” Then they became grateful that they had access to testing and fast results. By now, it is what it is and no longer a topic of conversation.

I won’t even bother mentioning regulations and CDPH surveys. 4 surveys in 1 week was our records.

The outbreak eventually closed. Most residents lived through it, and so did almost all staff. Almost. We lost two team members. Why? We don’t quite know. They were not unusually old, nor unhealthy. We still cannot figure it out, but that’s the thing with Covid, it is sort of statistics and sort of your luck.

Remember when my family and I got Covid? The one thing I didn’t mention in my story is the first thing that I did after my husband tested positive- I got our estate documents notarized in a parking lot by a friend. I was driving them around for a year waiting to get around to them. Like I said, sort of statistics and sort of luck. Thank God for our luck.

Now we are finally getting vaccinated. To date, we have done over 1,600 first and second dose shots.

While we are still in uncharted territory and the regulations haven’t kept up, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have been Covid-free for over a month. Our staff and residents are finally healthy and most of our residents received the vaccine. I pray nobody will die of Covid again.

There have been multiple silver linings to all this.

  1. Our team is bulletproof. Though we haven’t been able to hire on very many new employees (one newly hired employee got so spooked that he refused to come inside to pick up his final check,) not a single one of our existing team members left. We are closer than ever.

2. Things that used to bother us, no longer do. After Covid, we are hardy rattled by anything.

3. We are grateful- to be alive, to be healthy, to have had the first access to vaccines, to have jobs, to have supportive families, to have supportive management, to have supplies, I mean, everything. So. Grateful. For. Everything.

4. We were finally seen. From Fox 11, to NBC, Wallstreet Journal, Getty Images, US Armenia, USA Today, NPR, Voice of America, and CAHF Awards and highlights. The spotlight was on nursing homes and the world was watching, and we maximized the opportunity to demonstrate the excellence in long term care.

So here we are a year later- smarter, faster, rock solid, and hella resilient.

Damn you, Covid. You couldn’t take us down.



Nursing Home Administrator in the time of Covid-19. Mom of two little boys. Wife. Keto diet fan. Yogi. 🌻

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Margarita Kechichian

Margarita Kechichian

Nursing Home Administrator in the time of Covid-19. Mom of two little boys. Wife. Keto diet fan. Yogi. 🌻

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