Nursing homes are scary places full of sadness, pain, and isolation for many residents. According to the new guidelines, which have been endorsed by the federal government, only essential visits should be conducted — and that generally means no families. Thousands of nursing homes and assisted-living centers across the United States are becoming islands of isolation as health care administrators take unprecedented steps to lock them down, hoping to protect some of the nation’s most vulnerable residents from the threat posed by the coronavirus. Vulnerable residents will feel even more isolated and lonely.
But cutting off physical contact with friends and family can be difficult and damaging. The recommendations suggest facilities develop alternative methods of communication for residents to engage with the outside world. Adult children talk to their parents through locked glass doors like jailhouse visitors.
Concerned family members and friends should keep lines of communication open with nursing home administrators. Ask them what they’re doing to mitigate the risks of a coronavirus outbreak, how they’re sanitizing the facilities and keeping residents and visiting patients safe. Families should also create a contingency plan in the event their loved one’s nursing home or assisted living center shuts down.
“This is the greatest threat to nursing home residents that we have seen in many years, if not ever,” Dr. Michael Wasserman, president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, told NBC News. “If there is one single thing that matters most right now, it’s that if someone has a fever or a cough or feels sick, do not visit a nursing home,” Wasserman said. “There should be no exceptions.”
“I’m concerned that the loneliness and helplessness will kill her quicker than the virus,” said Melissa West, whose 95-year-old mother-in-law lives in a nursing home in Seattle that has remained untouched by the virus. “I just think of her being there by herself. Just sitting in her wheelchair all day. Being trapped and waiting.”
A variety of factors make nursing homes especially at risk to infection: many facilities are poorly staffed; have lax infection prevention and control policy and procedures; fail to properly train their staff; use temporary agency staff; some residents may have weakened immune systems, and because caregivers and visitors are constantly coming and going which allows germs to spread.