Covid-19 has thrown off everyone’s habit of visiting our aging loved ones. Assisted living, independent living and nursing homes have isolated their residents for months. In most places, no one can visit in person yet. That has to change. Elders’ isolation is doing harm.
Some homes have figured out a safe way to allow visitation. One in particular is in Los Angeles, coming up with a strategy despite the city’s serious problem with the pandemic. The facility was shut down from March to late June. Precautions at all levels led to stunning success—no one in that assisted living nor independent living tested positive for the disease. That means that about 200 elders have been protected by wise measures. Every resident was tested. Staff are tested regularly too and temperatures taken every day. Masks and social distancing are enforced. No one wants to see even a single positive case. Looking ahead, could there be a way to allow residents to see family members in person? They did not want stringent, no-visitors regulations to go on forever.
Finally they figured out a way to allow in-person contact that appears to be working. Here’s what they do:
1. One family member may visit once a week for 45 minutes, making an appointment online in advance. Numbers of visitors to the home are controlled over the week.
2. Visits must be outdoors, on premises, with no touching of the resident, no food shared and no sitting across from each other. There is mandatory handwashing/sanitizing.
3. Both resident and visitor must wear masks at all times during the visit. Visits are monitored at a distance by staff to ensure that every protocol is followed.
4. Temperature checks are done on every visitor and each must sign a statement verifying that he or she is symptom free.
As limiting as these protocols are, they surely are better than blocking visitation indefinitely. In my work I keep hearing questions from the seniors’ adult children about the distress of not being able to see their loved ones. Some family contact every week can do a great deal of good to an isolated senior. It’s a relief for family too, to see an aging parent in person and to converse directly. At AgingParents.com we support this measured, carefully thought out plan to keep residents of the community there as safe as possible. If every director of every similar facility put that much thought and attention into infection prevention, we would be doing much better. And yes, testing costs money. It’s essential.
Unfortunately, many of the millions of elders living in homes for seniors and in nursing homes do not have the benefit of such forward thinking that this particular place under discussion has given. Coronavirus did not start in nursing homes and assisted living. Staff and visitors who didn’t know they had it or were contagious obviously were the source. Not every facility tested every resident and every caregiving staff at the beginning of our worries. Not every facility had infection prevention protocols firmly in place at the outset of this pandemic. We see the result: high numbers of infections and deaths in these places. We know more now than we did then.
If you have an aging parent or other family member in a seniors’ home or nursing home, get clear on what they are doing to keep everyone safe. Ask questions, persist, talk to the director. If things are under control and safety measures are well in hand, suggest developing a protocol for limited visitation. It is possible to allow in-person visits in a limited, masked, controlled way. Failure to stop the spread came from lack of infection control policies or plain ignorance of how staff became vectors. We know what works. Encourage those in charge of any seniors’ home where your loved ones live to open visitation with strict controls. It’s time.