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Leading Role in Confronting COVID-19

Terms like “decipher and disseminate,” “navigate,” and “command center” have been a significant part of her vocabulary over the past year. Margaret Antkowiak, a resident of Plano, is the Assistant Director of Nursing at The Springs Health and Rehabilitation Center at Monarch Landing senior living community in Naperville. In that capacity, Margaret also has responsibilities as the Infection Preventionist. Her role of supporting the Director of Nursing took a sharp turn at the beginning of COVID-19, putting her at the frontline directing the community’s efforts to combat the virus.

As a Life Care Community, Monarch Landing offers independent living. The Springs provides assisted living memory care, short-term rehab, and skilled care. Antkowiak has spent her time overseeing COVID-19 mitigation, testing, and education, as well as securing vaccinations for residents and staff at all levels of care.

As an Infection Preventionist, Antkowiak is certified with the American Healthcare Association and was well-positioned to navigate COVID-19. There have been massive amounts of information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) relating to the pandemic. “Guidance we have been receiving from various sources has often told us what to do, but not how to do it. We have found that we often decipher a guideline, develop a policy for enforcing it, and then the guideline changes. It’s been confusing. I have focused on communicating and coordinating with the agencies, and then sharing the information and educating throughout the community.”

Fortunately, Antkowiak said that Monarch Landing and The Springs created an emergency response command center early on during the pandemic, helping to direct and manage the community’s efforts relating to COVID-19. “Each manager in the command center has a specific role,” she said, explaining that she has been a liaison, coordinating information from the State and various agencies, identifying best practices, communicating any positive test results, and sharing pertinent information.

Antkowiak has led the community’s COVID testing. “Initially, I was setting up testing with labs, tracking all the results,” she said, adding that now there’s a team collaborating on this together. “Every week, we test about 130 staff and 84 residents. There have been times that we’ve tested twice a week,” said. The numbers are staggering, as there have been more than 5200 employee COVID tests and 3220 resident COVID tests.

Monarch Landing and The Springs have completed making both doses of vaccinations available to all staff and residents. While coordinating the in-house clinics delivering more than 700 vaccines was labor-intensive, Antkowiak said, “It’s exciting to me. It’s such a positive thing; I could not be happier to take it on. From when we signed on with CVS in October, we waited with bated breath. There were concerns about how and when this would happen. When it all worked out really well, everyone was very excited.”

With vaccinations having been administered, Antkowiak said she’s hoping that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will start permitting family members to visit in-person with residents. “We’re excited to start moving gradually back to a brand of normal,” she said.

Mark Trnka, executive director of Monarch Landing, said that Antkowiak’s work has been invaluable in keeping the residents and staff healthy and safe over the past year. “Having someone in this position has been crucial to our operations, and Margaret has been exceptionally well-informed, organized, and effective. We’re really fortunate to have her heading this up.”

Antkowiak said that the past year has been challenging and enlightening and her role in combatting COVID has been fulfilling. “It’s given me a sense of accomplishment to learn something new and be part of something like this.”