How a Nursing Home in France Stopped Coronavirus from Infecting Any Elderly in its Care With a 47-Night Slumber Party

When the COVID-19 shadow loomed large over France, the staff at Vilanova nursing home for seniors near Lyon, resolved that they would not allow their residents to become statistics—so they did what no one else was doing.

Valerie Martin runs the home in Corbas, where she cares for 106 people. When she heard what the coronavirus was doing to elderly people across Europe, she resolved that drastic action was needed to protect her residents.

“I said, ‘No. Not mine. My residents still have so much to live for,’” Martin told AP.

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She decided to completely close the building, and invited staff members and nurses to join her in lockdown for what she thought would be a three-week quarantine. Fortunately Valerie wasn’t alone in her heroics, as 29 of her employees volunteered to stay, bringing pillows and sleeping bags to spend nights with mattresses on the floor.

It turned into a marathon of 47 days and nights, but 12 staff members remained the entire time. Their determination paid off, and on Monday May 4th, amid hugs of celebration and singing, coronavirus tests came back negative for all 106 residents.

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Nurse with residents in front of the daily tally board – All photos, Valerie Martin

“We succeeded,” Martin said. “Every day, every hour, was a win.”

The caregivers who called themselves the “happily confined” left in a parade of cars honking horns on their way back to reunions with pets, partners, and children.

A Holiday Camp

“It was tough,” caregiver Vanessa Robert told AP. But there were also moments of “total joy, getting together in the evenings, fooling around, tossing water bombs at each other.”

They even planned a pretend wedding, as depicted in the photo below.

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Nursing home holds a mock wedding to pass the time. – Valerie Martin

Because staff and residents of Vilanova were all locked in together—separated from another part of the facility where outside staff members would bring in food and supplies—there was no need to confine seniors to their lonely rooms.

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After the start of France’s lockdown on March 17th, Martin saw that many residents were falling into depression during their first days in isolation, while the staff gave the home a deep cleaning.

“In two days, we already saw people who started no longer wanting to eat, people who didn’t want to get up, people who said, ‘Why are you washing me? It’s pointless,’” she told the AP.

However, once there were again communal games and meals, everyone stayed in good spirits for the whole 47 days.

When the national average of new cases fell dramatically and the doors at Vilanova were unlocked, Valerie Martin, who finally went home to her likely-distraught cat, was hailed a hero in newspapers around the world for her efforts. But it wasn’t a huge sacrifice in the end.

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“It was a bit like entering a holiday camp,” she said. “Living a lockdown with 130 people is extremely rewarding.”

This is just one of many inspiring stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

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