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Pandemic affects us all, especially nursing homes

My friend, Peggy, is a resident at Ivy Hall Nursing Home. Before the pandemic, I visited her at least three or four times a week. We often enjoyed a cup of Hazelnut coffee together, sometimes a small cup of Haagen Dazs ice cream, and occasionally, I would read a devotional to her. Each time I went I took her a treat, and we did a lot of chit-chatting, joked and laughed. Most of the time they were light-hearted visits and lifted both of us.
That all came to an end in early March when nursing homes in Elizabethton and around the state and country were closed to visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When it first occurred, I thought maybe two weeks at the most,” said Judy Deloach, Administrator at Ivy Hall Nursing Home. “I had no idea it would still be going on in July. There seems to be no end in sight. During my working career, I have never had to deal with anything like this. Every night when I lay my head down, I pray that God will keep us safe at Ivy Hall, not only here, but at every nursing home in the area. Our residents are precious and we’re doing everything we can to keep them safe.”
Jeannie Barker, Administrator at Hermitage Health Center, agreed. “No end is in sight for this virus. But, there will be an end, and we’ll get through it,” she confidently shared.
With restrictions on in-person visiting in long-term care facilities during the coronavirus pandemic, families face the challenge of staying emotionally close and present in the lives of their loved one. The lack of family contact and attention can create anxiety and feelings of isolation for the resident, plus stress for worried families and friends used to visiting in person.
Most local nursing homes have gone out of their way to provide for families and residents to stay connected.
“The lockdown is not our choice, but the decision was made by state and federal leaders, and we have to abide by it,” said Deloach.
Barker shared that at the outset of the pandemic, Hermitage Health Center applied for a grant to buy i-pads and an i-phone so residents could do face time with family members. “We just recently were able to purchase the i-pads, and family members are now able to do face time with the residents. Oft times family members will come to the entrance and wave to their loved one. It has been hard not only on the residents, but for family, friends and the staff as well. In many instances, staff members have had to assume the role of friend as well as caregiver. They have become that go-to person that the resident leans on and from whom they seek reassurance,” Barker shared.
Hermitage is licensed for 70 beds, but on the average has 64 residents, while Ivy Hall presently has 85 residents.
About a month ago, Ivy Hall partially re-opened by allowing family members and friends to visit residents, but only if they had a coronavirus test and tested negative. The visit had to be made within 72 hours of the testing time, and visitors had to wear face masks, undergo a temperature check as well as thermal cleansing of their shoe soles before visiting a resident. But, July 13 after the local number of cases began to spike, Deloach said they made the decision to re-close the facility to visitors. “It was a difficult decision, but for the safety of our residents it was the right thing to do,” she said.
Barker said Hermitage was on the verge of re-opening its facility for family visitation when the new surge hit, so visitation was put on hold.
At Signature Health Care and Rehabilitation Center (formerly Pine Ridge), Administrator Debbie Street said staff members help residents with calls to family members and help them do face time. “Some of our residents don’t understand why they can’t see family or why their family member doesn’t visit, but overall, things have gone quite well. Our staff has pitched in and gone the extra mile to fill the visitation void,” she said.
“Most of our residents watch the news and some read the newspaper. So, they are aware of what is going on. Our activity staff does one-on-one activities with residents. We have a chaplain, who works with each resident as well as staff members, because they get discouraged, too. It’s a difficult time for both staff and residents,” Street said.
All three administrators — Street, Barker, and Deloach — say staff and residents have grown closer. And, together they encourage and lift each other’s spirits.
“We test our employees weekly, and, thus far, we have not had any positive results, and for that we are thankful,” said Deloach. Also, Signature and Hermitage do weekly testing of their staffs.
“Our first priority is to keep our residents safe and healthy and we’ll do everything in our power to do that,” said Deloach.
“We’ve had to build a little cocoon to keep them in. We do hall bingo, hall bowling, etc. We are doing our own little ice cream truck (cart) with ice cream and ice cream truck music for the residents,” said Deloach.
At Signature, staff makes sure residents have puzzle books, reading material, and fun things to do. Signature presently has 60 residents.
“We try to take our residents outside on a regular basis, also,” said Street.
All of the nursing homes encourage families to have window time with their family member when possible. While family members are on the outside, residents are safe on the inside. They can chat — almost in person — and share smiles, laughs, and a touch through the glass.
When a window or an i-pad isn’t available, a cell phone usually works just fine.
At Life Care Center of Elizabethton, they have arranged for drive-through visits for residents and family on various occasions such as birthdays.
All of the nursing homes encourage friends and family to send cards, photos, and care packages.
I was able to visit my friend, Peggy, a couple of times when Ivy Hall lifted its visitation restrictions for a brief time, but now, I visit once or twice a week by waving at her from the sidewalk, and she waves back from her second-floor window. We also talk daily.
Physical restrictions on visitation don’t have to prevent you from staying close at heart and emotionally close and “connected” to your loved ones in assisted living, rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes. You can easily adapt and use innovative ways to lift their spirits, and your own, bringing everyone involved a true sense of joy and closeness.
In the meantime, Carter County and Elizabethton is blessed to have caring administrators like Deloach, Street, and Barker. And, I’m sure administrators at Hillview Health Center, Life Care of Elizabethton, and the Waters of Roan are just as caring and concerned for their residents.
(A version of this story will appear in this quarter’s Carter County Living Magazine scheduled to be out in early August. Be sure to pick up your copy at local businesses or at the Elizabethton STAR.)