HAMPTOM ROADS, Va. - Every Sunday, Donna Smith said she and her siblings would get together to visit their 93-year-old mother Mildred Stevens at the nursing home.
“That’s what she misses most, because her whole week would revolve around us being there as a group,” she said. “She would look forward to that all week.”
Since mid-March after Coronavirus hit, connecting with loved ones at long-term care facilities has been limited to mostly window visits or virtual calls.
Still, Smith said her mom is doing well and staying busy.
“They have a modified Bingo now; it’s pretty cool,” said Smith. “They wheel themselves to their door, and there is someone in the hallway giving out numbers, so they’re socially distancing.”
Not every resident is as lucky. The long-term lockdowns have weighed heavily on some folks in long-term care.
State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Joani Latimer acts as an advocate for some 70,000 residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state.
“Some residents have shown signs that they are suffering from the separation, becoming depressed in some situations,” said Latimer. “The social isolation piece of this is a side effect that’s serious and concerning and it is having a side effect on residents.”
Latimer said staff in some facilities may be stretched thin and not as attentive to their daily needs.
“Day to day care needs are critical,” she said. “Are they being turned? Are they being fed? Is staff sufficient to meet the needs?”
After many delays, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) finally released nursing home reopening guidelines on Friday, but there’s still no exact timeline.
In a statement VDH spokesperson Cheryle Rodriguez said:
“This guidance helps guide nursing facilities through a phased reopening process, including the gradual relaxation of restrictions on things such as visitation. It is difficult to say how long this process will take for a given facility, as there are many factors that are specific to individual facilities. We share the goal of protecting residents and staff while working efficiently to ensure that individuals can have visitors and resume more typical activities.”
VDH also acknowledged how the lockdowns are affecting some residents.
"We understand that the important disease prevention strategies that are needed to mitigate the risk of COVID19, such as limitations on visitation, have had difficult impacts to residents of long-term care facilities and their families and loved ones. Local health departments are working with the facilities to respond to COVID-19, and when possible, aim to balance the importance of preventing disease transmission with the other things needed to maintain well-being while living in a residential nursing facility. We know this is hard and we hear the families going through this difficult time."
Latimer is hopeful some facilities may be able to start easing restrictions in about a month. Meantime, the federal advocacy group is still investigating issues and working to resolve problems while supporting the needs and well-being of residents.
“Sooner rather than later, we would really hope to see arrangements made to bring families and residents back together,” said Latimer. “This is always going to be a bit of a balancing act, and part of that balance needs to be considering the holistic view of the health of resident, which is emotional, mental and physical well-being altogether.”