CHATHAM – The need for social isolation is one of the most difficult aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, cutting off visits from families and friends, often their only social interactions, can be difficult.
“It's just very limiting for us all,” said Liberty Commons resident John Shearer. “But it's a sacrifice that a few of us have to make. We're very vulnerable, and certainly don't want the virus to get in here. It would be devastating.”
Despite that, residents of both facilities interviewed this week said they are doing well, with the most significant impact being the social isolation and, not surprisingly, boredom.
“It's boring, but they have taken terrific care of us,” said Elizabeth Lowell, a Victorian resident.
Both facilities have instituted strict protocols to protect its residents, including prohibiting all visitors except family members of end-of-life patients. Those family members, as well as staff coming on shifts, are questioned about any symptoms and have their temperature taken, said William Bogdanovich, president and CEO of Broad Reach Healthcare, which runs both of the Orleans Road facilities. In addition, newly admitted patients are placed in a 21-bed wing for 14 days.
In other locations, nursing homes have been vectors for the coronavirus. But while several residents and staff of Liberty Commons, which has 132 beds, and the 40-apartment Victorian have been tested, there have been no positive results, said Bogdanovich.
But it hasn't been easy. Infection protocols can “change overnight,” he said, requiring that staff change workflows and routines.
“The guidance is constantly changing,” he said. The staff has responded well, he said. “People have done an extraordinary job of helping make sure we have a handle on what's going on.”
Both residents and family members also praised the staff at both facilities.
“They're doing a wonderful job, really going above and beyond to make sure everybody has food and medication and are well taken care of,” said Victorian resident Carol Yamamoto.
“They're doing a phenomenal job,” said Lori Witter, whose mother-in-law is at Liberty Commons and father-in-law is at the Victorian. “I feel very comfortable that my in-laws are getting great care.”
A weekly telephone message from the facility helps keep family informed about the situation, said Susan Hicks, whose father, Richard Bernard, is at Liberty Commons. She lives in Westwood and appreciates the updates. “They're very kind and caring,” she said.
Despite electronic communications—email, telephone, text, Facetime, Skype—not being able to see family members and friends is difficult.
“It does get pretty lonely,” said Yamamoto. “I just take it one day at a time and get through as best I can.”
Hicks said her mother, who lives in Yarmouthport, used to visit her father every day. “This has been a huge adjustment for her, and for my dad,” she said. They speak daily, and when her mother delivered some snacks and other items—which she had to leave outside for staff to pick up—they were able to wave to each other through a window.
“It's such a nice treat for him,” she said of her father, “to get something from my mom.”
Liberty Commons residents are able to socialize among themselves, as long as they maintain social distancing, but are required to stay within each of the facility's three nursing stations, Bogdanovich said. “It' not like people are quarantined in their rooms and can't come out,” he said. While meals are brought to most rooms, some residents can still go to the dining room, as long as they are properly spaced, he added.
“We do a lot of chatting among ourselves,” said Shearer. He understands the need to prohibit visits and gathering of residents. He used to sit in the lobby and said the flow of visitors was “like a zoo. They were from all over, and plenty of them. You can see how they would have to control that.” He's watching a lot of TV, especially recordings of previous sports games. “If you forget what the results are, you can enjoy them,” he quipped.
Lowell said she checks in regularly with her sister and daughter in Florida and her mother, who is about to turn 100 and is living at the Pleasant Bay Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Brewster. “God bless her, she's doing well,” she said of her mother.
While residents of the Victorian can walk around the facility, they must maintain social distancing. They're occasionally able to slip out for a short walk outdoors as well. Lowell said she's amazed that the staff has maintained a positive and compassionate attitude.
“They all have their ow families to worry about,” she said. She feels safe and taken care of and is resolved to wait out the epidemic.
“The situation stinks, but we're going to make the most of it,” she said.
Yamamoto said she's discouraged about the extension of the White House's social distancing guidelines through the end of the month, at least that provides a promise of relief.
“We're doing the best we can,” she said.
Hicks said some staff members have gone above and beyond, with activities assistant Seth Franco playing cribbage with her father on his own time. “You would think my dad's the only person there, that's the way he talks about it,” she said. The staff is “truly filling in where families cannot now. That says a lot, because they all have families of their own.”
“My mother's never worried, not one time, that he's not being cared for,” Hicks said.
Staff has helped residents keep in touch with families through electronic communications, Bogdanovich said, even taking photos of signs with messages to family members and emailing them.
He said he's also been able to maintain supplies of masks and other personal protective equipment, but it's necessitating seeking new suppliers. A shipment of 50,000 surgical masks were due Wednesday from a company in China. “It's just a different world,” he said. Local builders have also offered N95 mask, which would be necessary should there be a positive case of COVID-19. The facilities have protocols in place should that happen.
“We want to be ready for what happens next,” he said. He's also been in touch with other nursing home operators and said Cape Cod Healthcare has held a weekly call with the Cape's post-acute care providers to share protocol information.