Mary’s Woods residents make a thankful noise every day at noon, honoring front-line workers. (Courtesy Mary’s Woods)
Mary’s Woods residents make a thankful noise every day at noon, honoring front-line workers. (Courtesy Mary’s Woods)
At Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst, the carillon in the Diamond bell tower chimes on the hour. Its noontime chime, though, is a special one.

“Everyone comes out to thank front liners, one by one,” said Diane Hood, president and CEO of the retirement community.

Some people pray at the sound of the chimes, others bang pots and pans.

Either way, it’s a cacophony of thanks.

Mary’s Woods, a community that also includes memory care, residential care and rehabilitation, has so far been free of the coronavirus.

“It’s been a matter of good planning, follow through, luck and prayer,” said Hood.

She admits that even in her own family, at times it’s felt as though they’ve been holding their breath, “waiting to get it.”

At Mary’s Woods, the defense is complicated by the fact that many residents live in apartments and villas. They’re being careful — not gathering and practicing social distancing. “But,” Hood added, “if you’re still going to Costco…”

Mary’s Woods leaders were already planning for the coronavirus before Oregon saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19, in nearby Lake Oswego Feb. 28, in a school employee.

This was the same day that, earlier, Oregon Health Authority’s director, Pat Allen, said “If the coronavirus comes to Oregon, we’ll be ready.”

Note the “if.”

Hood and Mary’s Woods leadership team had begun working on their plan 10 days before. “We’ve been trying to stay ahead of both federal and state guidelines,” said Hood.

It was clear even then that the elderly and fragile were most at risk from the coronavirus — and anyone who had studied the conditions at America’s nursing homes knew that many weren’t up to the challenge.

“I do believe that all communities intend to provide great care to the residents who live there,” said Hood. “They’re not bad people.”

Yet, when mistakes inevitably happen at underfunded facilities, Hood said, the fallout affects all communities.

“We all get painted with the same brush,” said Hood.

COVID-19 was an almost insurmountable challenge for many already weak nursing homes dependent upon Medicaid payments.

Half of Oregon’s dead from COVID-19 were in nursing homes. In some other states the percentage is higher. It’s not just the United States — as many as half of European countries’ dead had been living in long-term care facilities.

On May 5, the state ordered Healthcare at Foster Creek, in Southeast Portland, to shut down because the facility “demonstrated a consistent inability to adhere to basic infection control standards.”

Mary’s Woods, in contrast, receives an overall rating of five stars from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Oregon average is 3.7 stars and the national average is 3.3.

Now that governors, including Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, are beginning to think about how best to reopen businesses, the community’s leadership aren’t letting down their guard.

“We stayed ahead, now we’re going to lag behind,” said Hood, referring to implementing and removing social distancing and other safeguards.

“Everyone’s going a little stir crazy, but we don’t want to somehow get the virus on campus.”