As published in the Fairbanks News-Miner on May 18, 2020 By Amanda Bohman
Tina Rein discusses how the Denali Center overcame the virus

Tina Rein, the director of the Denali Center, holds Dewley, a therapy dog that visits the residents of the Denali Center a couple days a week. Dewley can be seen visiting resident Bobbie Reinhardt. Courtesy foundation Health Partners

In late March, Fairbanks was a coronavirus hotspot with multiple patients and staff at the Denali Center, a long-term care facility, who had tested positive.

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, sent state epidemiology teams to trace the illnesses’ spread and said at the time that the Denali Center and another cluster in Fairbanks were her top concerns.

Denali Center Director Tina Rein said they took every known measure to control the outbreak — isolation, extra sanitation and widespread testing.

The facility tested all 73 residents and 135 staff members, whether or not they showed symptoms.

“We were able to identify, isolate and contain,” Rein said. “We saw what was happening in Seattle. We had a system in place.”

Nursing homes have been hard hit from the COVID-19 global pandemic. The majority of deaths in several states are happening in long term care facilities like the Denali Center.

Officials announced on April 30 that the Denali Center and neighborhooding Fairbanks Memorial Hospital were COVID-free. None of the three Denali Center residents who tested positive died of the virus.

The achievement caused the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make inquiries to the state, Rein said.

“We were able to eradicate it from the building. I feel so blessed and so incredibly happy that I can say that. It was scary, you know, with what you hear nationally. … When I go home and I watch the news, it’s heart wrenching.”

Rein has been a nurse for 25 years, including in an inner-city hospital. She has never faced a crisis as serious as the coronavirus, she said.

The 54-year-old is a rancher’s daughter from Nebraska and the middle child in a blended family. She has worked at the Denali Center for 12 years with a break after about 10 years when she left Alaska to be with her own aging parents. She worked as a consultant before returning to Fairbanks. She missed the atmosphere at the Denali Center, she said.

“This is very unique here, and I feel very blessed to be here,” Rein said. “Our care team is well trained, and we are valued. We are able to create a life worth living for that geriatric patient. It’s really unique. It’s not something that you really see nationally.”

Rein decided to specialize with geriatric nursing in part because older people lift her spirits.

“I can have a cup of coffee with an elder, and it’s very few times that they do not make me laugh or make me feel or make me remember,” she said. “They just bring me pleasure.”

She gives the credit for beating the coronavirus to the Denali Center staff, Foundation Health Partners, the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, the Alaska Section of Epidemiology and the Fairbanks area community.

“Denali Center had tremendous support,” Rein said. “Part of our success is that the hospital had done such a great job of communicating how to flatten a curve in a community.”

COVID-19 remains a threat, and the Denali Center continues to be closed to visitors.