Some of the staff at the Blackfeet Care Center got together for a picture, including (from left) LPN Charge Nurse Kylie Rutherford, Certified Medication Aide Lindsey Horn, Director of Nursing and Planning Section Chief and member of the Blackfeet Tribal Incident Command Team Marie Weasel, Carmyn Mailboy CNA, Ward Clerk Clarissa Blackcrow, Arnold Longtimesleeping CNA and Sharon Ingraham CNA.

As Director of Nursing at the Blackfeet Care Center and Planning Section Chief on the Blackfeet Incident Command Team, Marie Weasel said she is finding herself well prepared for the coronavirus shutdown. Asked if things have changed for her since the shutdown, she said, “No, because I was an ER nurse for 16 years and a supervisor for seven years. I did all kinds of emergency operations training, so this is right up my alley.”

The Care Center shut its doors to the public on Friday, March 13, and entering the facility now requires authorization and testing. Signs cover the front doors stating “no visitors” while instructing authorized people to ring the bell and wait for assistance. Upon learning one has reason to enter, a nurse tests one’s temperature at the front door, then asks questions about experiencing symptoms and any out-of-state or international travel. Only upon satisfactorily passing these tests does one enter any further, in this case to the Nursing Director’s office. At no time were any residents seen, and all personnel wear protective gear.

As for the residents, the shutdown has had two major impacts. “The biggest impact in the first three weeks was the residents were very upset, mostly for not being able to go to the casino, but apart from that the biggest impact has been on family visits,” Weasel said. “But we’ve adjusted with Facetime calls and families visiting through the windows. There are many ways to make connections with families.”

Testing is now a big part of everyday life for the staff at the Care Center. “We tested all the residents and staff, which all came in negative. We’re doing surveillance testing, and we are the first nursing home in Montana to test all the staff and residents, with all negative results…Since March 13, every staff member is screened and given a mask for the day. Our number-one priority is keeping people safe. It’s heartbreaking to see what Shelby’s going through, and I don’t think my staff could handle that very well.”

Testing is also being done with folks who, in the course of their essential duties, interact with other people. “With Dr. Gray at IHS, we’re testing people from Blackfeet Law Enforcement, Corrections, EMS and Food Distribution,” she said. “We’ve done around 300 tests on different entities in the community who have lots of interactions with people day-to-day.”

Help has also arrived from outside sources, with some personal protective equipment (PPE) coming in through Incident Command from the State of Montana and homemade masks being donated by Mary Lukin and the Sewing Warriors. In addition, Weasel said he got in on a call to the Hi-Line United Incident Command that resulted in a large shipment of PPE. “We were fortunate to make connections early on,” she said.

As to the future at the Care Center, Weasel said, “It’s the new normal – masks, temperature checks, all the precautions because this isn’t going away. It may come back twice as bad, and we’ll do everything in our power to keep the residents safe. It changes every single day. We just put something out, and the next day it’s something new.”

Finally, Weasel has words of praise for her staff. “I want to compliment my staff on doing an awesome job,” she said. “Their hearts are totally in it, keeping people safe at all costs. Our number one goal is lives over everything.”

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