Featuring Margo Buda, Knollwood Life Plan Community

For Margo Buda, RN, the year 2020 began like any other year at Knollwood, a life plan community in Washington, D.C. serving military officers and government officials and their families. It quickly turned into the “year of the bat” as news of a mysterious respiratory virus began to spread around the globe. Margo had worked as an ER nurse, case manager and clinic nurse for years before coming to Knollwood and had experience with many types of infections including AIDS, SARS in 2003, Tuberculosis, and other viral infections. But like everyone else in the world, she had never faced a pandemic quite like COVID-19.

As Clinic Nurse Manager for Independent Living, Margo and her clinical team began tracking the virus on CDC and Johns Hopkins websites, and they knew it would be big. She knew her team would have to take the bull by the horn and figure out what to do when, not if, the virus came to Knollwood. And when it did come, they were prepared. Along with Knollwood’s leadership team, Margo helped convert one section of the facility to COVID rooms so that they had a place to quarantine residents who tested positive for the virus. They ramped up communications, turning monthly meetings into daily Zoom calls so they could monitor what was going on seven days a week. And when a resident in the memory unit died, they knew the virus had arrived. The resident hadn’t been out of the facility, so they knew their staff, many of whom worked several outside jobs, could possibly be bringing it into Knollwood inadvertently. When they learned that COVID could be passed on by asymptomatic people, they knew it was time to ramp up testing and put universal safety protocol in place.

Margo’s focus on testing led her to establish the timely Knollwood Abbott Rapid-Now COVID Testing Laboratory under leadership’s direction. Teams from the CDC and the D.C. Department of Health came on site to help the nursing staff test all residents, teach nurses how to take samples and get them to a lab for processing, and to certify qualified staff. When a donor contributed an Abbot ID Now Rapid Testing instrument and supplies, Knollwood’s clinic then had the tools and training to conduct rapid tests on-the-spot and get results within 15 minutes, to supplement the high-volume laboratory testing.

As laboratory manager, Margo established procedures for completing on-site rapid COVID testing, assisted in overseeing 7,000 tests, and served tirelessly to educate and inform staff and residents on how to protect themselves from contracting the virus. While COVID infection rates in the D.C. region were skyrocketing, her effective leadership and discipline resulted in over 150 days in mid-2020 with zero occurrences of new COVID-19 in the entire community–a truly magnificent performance.

It was for this extraordinary contribution–her leadership, initiative, judgement and determination to protect residents–that Margo Buda was honored by Ceca Foundation with its highest national recognition, the Annual Ceca Award. Ceca’s mission is to improve patient and resident experience in healthcare communities by recognizing and rewarding exceptional caregivers. Each year, Ceca seeks to recognize the “best of the best” with its Annual Ceca Awards, and Margo Buda is certainly one of the best.

We asked Margo how she and the staff felt when COVID struck, and she replied honestly, “When we found the first resident, it was frightening. Since then, our greatest fear has been spreading it to residents, fellow staff, and our own families. But we were confident that as long as we used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) properly, we were safe. Our jobs morphed into policing, testing, contact tracing, monitoring, supervising, and looking up labs, while also keeping residents’ spirits up and communicating with families. It’s been stressful… but there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

When asked how she reacted when she received the award, Margo confessed, “I was totally shocked! I got a call from Colonel Bricker, our chief operating officer, who said he and his boss, Major General Timothy McHale, our President, wanted to talk to me. He said it wasn’t bad, but I had my doubts. We went into the room next to the clinic and shut the door, then he told me I had won the Annual Ceca Award. I was shocked. I had no idea!”

When asked what advice she might offer others in her field, she honored her leadership and staff, which has received national attention in U.S. News and World Report for its response to COVID, by saying, “It helps to have great management and leadership. Ours are retired military personnel, and everything is run like a military mission. I hope other caregivers have such good leadership.  Beyond that, have good working communications, trust your staff, and hang in there. Everyone is stressed, so make time to get away from work and take care of yourself.”

One thing is clear at Knollwood and to the Ceca team and network. It is caregivers like Margo, ones that display such exquisite leadership and dedication to their jobs, that make a world of difference inside of our healthcare communities.

To schedule an interview with one of our featured caregivers, contact us at prinquiries@cecafoundation.org.