Benchmark Coronavirus (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions

January 04, 2021

Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) first arrived in the United States, it has disproportionately impacted older people and those with underlying medical conditions. During the pandemic, Benchmark has enacted a proactive approach to protecting the health – physical, mental, and emotional – of our residents and associates. 

Benchmark has also been committed to providing timely communications regarding the virus and our steps to mitigate its spread. We’ve gathered a wide range of resources on our web site at Benchmark Coronavirus Resource Center. Below you will find answers to frequently asked questions, ranging in topics from COVID-19 vaccinations to infection control protocols. 

If your question isn’t answered here, please email us at healthquestions@benchmarkquality.com. We will respond within 24 hours. Questions regarding specific residents or situations should be directed to your community’s Executive Director.

FAQs By Topic

COVID-19 Vaccinations 
Care & Programming
Visitors & Move-ins 
Infection Control & Mitigation
Associate Training & Policies

COVID-19 Vaccinations
The CDC and our states included residents and associates of assisted living and skilled nursing communities in the first wave of the much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine. We believe this is the best opportunity for our residents and associates to protect themselves, their families, and each other from COVID-19. Benchmark is working hard to ensure residents and their families have the information they need regarding the vaccine.

What vaccine will Benchmark communities receive? 
Benchmark communities so far have been provided the Pfizer vaccine, the first available COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. Following the two-dose series of vaccinations, the Pfizer vaccine reportedly has an effectiveness rate of 95 percent against COVID-19. Depending on the states, communities could also receive the recently approved Moderna vaccine, which reportedly has similar effectiveness rates as the Pfizer vaccine and is also given in two doses. 

When will my community get the vaccine clinic? 
CVS Health will notify each Benchmark skilled living and assisted living community of its vaccination clinic schedule very soon. The majority of Benchmark communities have received clinic dates for the first phase of vaccinations. Please contact your community for more information. 

How is the vaccine given?
The vaccine is injected into the muscle in two doses, approximately three weeks apart. The second dose is needed to complete the vaccination series. Both doses need to be from the same manufacturer, so be sure to repeat your second visit at the same location as your first.

Can I get COVID-19 between the first and second dose?
Yes. It takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. A person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection. Once you have completed both doses of the vaccine studies have shown it is 95% effective. It’s also important to remember that our communities will continue to take all necessary precautions after the vaccine is administered, including our current PPE protocols and conducting regular testing. 

How does the vaccine work?
COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you by creating an antibody response without the risk of severe illness. COVID-19 vaccination is a safer way to build protection than acquiring the virus and building natural immunity, as the virus can cause severe illness and even death.

Will the vaccine make me sick? 
The vaccine has gone through testing and clinical trials to ensure it meets the highest safety standards. Experts note that there could be mild side effects of the vaccine, typically no worse than you would experience from the flu vaccine. You may have tenderness in your arm where the vaccine was administered and possibly flu-like symptoms, typically following the second dose. These side effects are normal and may last up to 48 hours:

• injection site pain
• fever
• tiredness
• injection site swelling
• headache
• injection site redness
• muscle pain
• nausea
• chills
• feeling unwell
• joint pain
• swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)

Aren’t there more serious adverse reactions for some people?
As with all medical decisions, you should consult your doctor if you have any concerns, since your doctor knows your specific medical history and situation. There is a rare severe allergic reaction caused by the vaccine, which may occur shortly after receiving a dose of the vaccine. 

Signs of a severe allergic reaction can include: 
• Difficulty breathing
• Swelling of your face and throat
• A fast heartbeat
• A rash all over your body
• Dizziness and weakness

You will be monitored after you receive the vaccine and a pharmacist will be on hand who has appropriate emergency medications. 

How about long-term side effects?
This is currently unknown. Currently, the longest trial has been four months.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine? 
No. The vaccine does not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. 

It sounds like the drug companies really rushed this. How do I know it is safe?
Because of the urgency and need, the vaccine was fast-tracked by the government, while also maintaining the usual safety measures, we’ve been assured. Researchers used existing networks to conduct COVID-19 vaccine trials. Manufacturing began while clinical trials were still underway so we would be better prepared once the safety of the vaccine was confirmed. Normally, manufacturing doesn’t begin until after the trials. 

My loved one had COVID-19. Does she still need the vaccine?
Yes. Getting the virus that causes COVID-19 may offer some natural protection, known as immunity. But experts don’t know how long this protection lasts. People may be advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have already had the virus. This is because a person can become infected with the virus more than once. 

Why aren’t independent living residents able to get a vaccine yet? 
The FDA and CDC expert panels prioritized nursing home and assisted living communities in Phase 1A of their vaccine distribution plans. This prioritization was then adopted by state public health authorities. According to this framework, Independent Living residents are included in Phase 1B of distribution, alongside essential workers. We will begin scheduling immunization clinics for Independent Living residents as soon as state public health authorities and CVS Health allow us to do so. Benchmark will continue to update you on future clinics for independent living residents.

Is Benchmark mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for your associates?
The vaccine is not a requirement for employment, at this time. Like most senior living communities, as well as hospitals, Benchmark is strongly recommending the vaccine to employees, not mandating. We have started a robust campaign to educate and promote taking the vaccine to our associates. This campaign will be ongoing.  

Is the vaccine free or do I need insurance? 
The vaccination is provided without cost to all residents and associates. The cost of the vaccine itself is covered by the federal government. CVS will bill Medicare or your insurer for administration costs, but you will not have to pay any copays. In order to bill the public or private insurers, CVS will need you to sign a consent form and provide a copy of the front and back of your insurance card. A government fund will cover the needs of the uninsured. 

Will there be more than one clinic day offered for our community?
Each skilled nursing and assisted living community will be given clinic dates from CVS. The first date is for dose one, and the second date is for dose two, approximately 21 days later. The third date is to make up for anyone who starts the vaccination process at clinic two. Please keep in mind that everyone needs to get two vaccines for maximum effectiveness and will need to get both doses at the same clinic site.

Can the residents get the vaccine in the next round, when we potentially know more about the vaccine?
We are in the first wave, so this is the time to take advantage of that benefit. We expect a “next round” won’t likely happen for several months, after all the other phases are completed. 

What ingredients are in the Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine?
These are the only ingredients in the Pfizer mRNA vaccine:
• mRNA – This mRNA is for the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
• Lipids (fats)
• Salts 
• Sugar 

The Pfizer mRNA vaccine does not include any of the following:
Fetal material
DNA
Antibiotics
• Blood products
• Preservatives, like thimerosal
• Gluten
Egg proteins
• Pork products
• Microchips

Can you tell us the percentage of your employees/residents who have received the vaccine?
At this stage of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process, we are encouraged by the growing number of residents and associates who are expressing interest in getting the vaccine. It is difficult to determine a trend, one way or the other, as only a few communities have been scheduled for clinics. We will be closely monitoring participation rates as more and more clinics are held and will continue to educate and promote the vaccine with all residents, their families and our associates.

Will Benchmark still have COVID-19 mitigation protocols in place, even after vaccines are administered?
Yes. We will continue to follow our current infection prevention measures, including use of PPE, following state regulations and administering testing.  Infection prevention will remain a top priority even after the clinics are completed. Risk stratification, appropriate PPE, and testing will remain as is until directed otherwise by our regulators. 

Resident Care & Programming
Our commitment to maintaining human connections has always been one of our core principles. We are dedicated to keeping our residents connected to the people and passions that matter most to them. And while COVID-19 has made creating these connections more challenging, we’ve developed ways to promote the mental well-being and independence of our residents while still working to protect their physical health.

If states are not allowing visits, how are you engaging residents who need programming and mental activities to keep their cognitive functions strong?
We are grateful to our associates who are working hard to keep our residents happy and engaged, brainstorming new and creative ways to increase activities across our community. One of the most popular things we’ve done has been arranging virtual meetings to keep our residents in contact with their loved ones via Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, Skype and Zoom.  

Our “Reaching Out and Reawakening Program” provides a number of purposeful, fun and safe indoor and outdoor small group activities to promote muscle reconditioning, cognitive stimulation, social connection and a greater sense of routine. 

Additionally, we are distributing daily activity packets with riddles, questions about famous paintings, trivia, mazes, word searches, puzzles and more to help keep residents engaged. 

How are you keeping memory care residents both safe and engaged?
To proactively address the unique needs of those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, we have reduced the amount of exposure that our memory care residents and associates have to one another and others. We have eliminated large group programs and are focusing on small groups where residents maintain a six feet distance from one another. One-on-one programming is an important service for our memory care residents as well. 

In some of our communities, we’ve been partnering with families to create resident books that document the lives of our residents. Filled with photos, letters, artwork, and messages, the books have been a great way for residents to stay connected to the people and memories they cherish.  

How do you work with residents who want to take a trip outside their communities? 
All residents are free to leave and return to the community. However, we strongly encourage and recommend residents stay within the community during this time for their own protection and for the well-being of their neighbors and our associates. For those residents who choose to leave their communities for non-medical appointments, they will be asked to follow certain protocols.  

If residents leave their communities for a few hours, we encourage them to follow social distance guidelines and wear a mask. When returning, residents will be: 
• Screened by our associates but will not be asked to self-quarantine.  
• Asked to self-quarantine if they exhibit symptoms or report a potential exposure.

If residents choose to stay outside the community overnight, we encourage them to follow social distance guidelines and wear a mask. When returning, residents will be:  
• Offered to have a COVID-19 test three days after they return and strongly encouraged to follow recommended self-quarantine protocols until a negative test result is received.  They will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days if exposed or exhibiting symptoms. 

It is critical to carefully consider the unique risks that the coronavirus poses to seniors. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older.  

What programming and services are currently being provided at Benchmark communities? 
Please note, each community’s geographic risk status and state guidelines will inform changes to activities, such as visits, programming and communal dining. Please contact your community for more information. 

Visitor & Move-in Protocols 
Our current and prospective residents’ families are valued members of Benchmark Senior Living communities, and we are committed to providing them with opportunities to connect with loved one, as well as sharing ongoing, transparent updates on their status and care. 

What are Benchmark’s visitation policies?
In accordance with each state’s senior care visitation guidance, we have established the visitor policies below. Please note that policies for visiting residents in our communities can vary based on current state guidelines and whether there is a known COVID-19 case in a community. Please contact your community for more information.

Visitor guidelines:
• Indoor visits may take place in either a resident’s apartment or in a designated area in the community, depending on state guidelines. These visitation areas will be properly cleaned and disinfected by our associates between visits.
• The schedule for visits can vary by community, but we try to accommodate the busy schedules of our families.
• The number of guests who can visit at one time varies by state. 
• We encourage all residents and visitors to maintain at least six feet of social distancing. 
• Visits must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance. In some cases, further notice may be required. 
• Prior to arrival, visitors are required to complete a visitor screening tool to track potential symptoms and exposure to the virus.
• Visitors and residents are required to wear masks at all times.
• Meals and snacks are not permitted during the visit. Gifts or flowers can be dropped off at the vestibule and will be given to the resident following the visit. Any items that are exchanged during the visit will be wiped down with an appropriate disinfectant. 
• Following the visit, visitors are asked to self-monitor their health and must immediately contact the community in the event they develop any COVID-19-related symptoms within two days after visiting. Communities will also maintain a visitor log in order to allow for contact tracing, if needed.

Please note that a visit will be canceled if:
• A resident is suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19. 
• A visitor has experienced any COVID-19-related symptoms within the last two weeks and/or has been in contact with someone who was diagnosed presumptive or positive for COVID-19.

If in-person visits are suspended due to state public health restrictions or Benchmark policy, window visits are available in some cases and virtual visits will be arranged via Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, Skype or Zoom. Some communities may still offer outside visits. Please ask your community. 

What is Benchmark’s screening process for visitors?
Upon entering the community, everyone is screened for COVID-19. At the main entrance, the receptionist, wearing PPE, will ensure the visitor is wearing a proper facemask, has washed his/her hands or used hand-sanitizer prior to entering the facility and has completed the COVID-19 Screening Tool. Then, using a non-contact thermometer, the receptionist will take the person’s temperature and document the reading in the COVID-19 Screening Tool. We ask all visitors take additional precautions as outlined in the Benchmark Community Promise.

What are residents expected to do if asked to self-quarantine?
We understand the challenges this has caused our residents and we are building individual plans for residents when we ask them to self-quarantine. For example, we are offering each resident in self-quarantine the opportunity to take two daily outdoor strolls, so they can take in the foliage, bird watch or just get some fresh air. When the weather is not conducive, the strolls will occur indoors in safe spaces to provide a change of scenery, movement and some socialization. 

Infection Control & Mitigation 
The health and safety of our residents and associates are our top priorities. We are working closely with medical professionals to learn more about the latest COVID-19 developments and following the recommendations of the CDC and state health departments to limit transmission of the disease and protect our residents and associates.

How did Benchmark develop their COVID-19 healthcare policies and procedures?
Benchmark continues to take close guidance from public health authorities, including the CDC and state departments of public health. In February, we activated our multi-disciplinary Incident Management Team to respond to COVID-19 and augmented our medical and infection control expertise with highly respected medical and scientific experts. We have established the Benchmark Coronavirus Advisory Council, a group of nationally renowned researchers, physicians, health care administrators and practitioners across the fields of epidemiology, geriatrics, and mental health. 

What preventative measures and cleaning activities is Benchmark taking to help limit the transmission of the virus in its communities?
We continue to take aggressive measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including:
• Increasing associate training on infectious disease procedures and protocols
• Maintaining a supply of PPE, and continuing to source additional supplies
• Instructing all staff to wear the appropriate PPE and adapt our trainings on the best practices for PPE usage 
• Closely monitoring residents, associates and essential visitors for possible symptoms, including taking temperatures daily of all community residents
• Enhancing cleaning activities using specialized, recommended products to help prevent infection from occurring, including the application of a non-toxic, CDC-approved spray
• Upgrades to HVAC system for filtration have occurred at all communities, using highly effective MERV-13 and HEPA filters 
• After every resident’s meal, tables and chairs are disinfected. Servers only bring food and drinks to the table, while other associates exclusively bus tables. 

What is Benchmark’s approach to COVID-19 testing?
COVID-19 testing is mandatory for all Benchmark associates including all new hires. We are adhering to each state’s respective laws and regulations regarding recurring testing, and, in some cases, exceed state requirements. 

Benchmark enhanced our ongoing associate testing program on Nov. 1 by requiring all associates in every state to be tested at least twice a month. If a community has an active case – resident or associate – testing frequency will increase to every week until there are two weeks without a case. At that point, testing will return to every two weeks. 

If any of our associates are experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, they are required to remain out of the community, let their supervisor know immediately, and contact their personal physician for appropriate care.

Associates Policies & Training 
Our associates are truly heroes in every sense of the word. We are so grateful for their dedication and for their ongoing commitment to providing our residents with the excellent standard of care that they and their loved ones expect.

What sort of training and processes are Benchmark associates following to limit the spread of the virus in communities? 
All of our associates are trained on the proper use of PPE and are expected to follow all BSL policies and industry best practices. Each associate must wear appropriate PPE, relevant to his or her role within the community, including wearing full PPE when providing direct care to residents and follow all protocols.

Our associates are closely monitoring residents in our assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing neighborhoods across Benchmark for signs of COVID-19 symptoms. During visits, programming and other community activities, our associates will work to ensure residents and visitors follow community protocols. 

Under what circumstances do associates need to quarantine before returning to work at Benchmark Senior Living? 
If associates meet any of the following criteria, they are required to remain out of the community and to self-quarantine for up to two weeks: 
• If an associate is diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19.
• If an associate is returning from travel to high-risk areas, as defined by the CDC and local public health authorities.
• If an associate has had high exposure to someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
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