For anyone that finds this floating in the interwebs sometime in the future:
It is October 2020.The world is still dealing with the pandemic known as Covid19. It started to hit the United States in our area (Michigan) early March 2020. We are strongly urged, if not required, to wear masks indoors, as well as, socially distance (stand apart from each other) at least 6'. There is a lot of plexiglass in use to protect workers, customers and school kids. There is testing, but currently no vaccine. Covid has definitely changed the way we live our lives and conduct our businesses. Early on, there were shut downs resulting in unemployment and economic worries. Many employees that were able to worked from home. Schools closed early. Stayed shut for awhile. Did virtual online school as much as possible until the end of the year. Seniors in high school missed out on so many of those last year BIG events: prom, graduation, open houses. People did drive by celebrations. We made the best of a bad situation.
We slowly have tried to return to "normal" or the oft dreaded terms of "unprecedented times" and "new normal". Covid seems to affect mostly elderly and those with other health issues.
One of the shut downs has affected our shut ins most of all. Shut ins refers to those who live in residential care facilities. The care facility could be assisted living or skilled nursing. It could be a small group home for people that just need a bit more help or consistency than family can provide.
In our family's case, our shut in is our mom. Prior to Covid, we were pretty much allowed unrestricted access to our mom. There are 5 of us "kids" (almost all in our 50's now). Between the 5 of us and our families, we visited mom at least 2-3 times a week. We attended events and activities designed to keep residents healthy and happy and active. BINGO!
We had a key card we could use to get in if it was after hours. I'm a night owl. Sometimes I visited later at night to help tuck mom in and say good night. There were many nights I would walk back down the hall to my car near tears. Mostly because I didn't want to have to leave her there. Some because I imagined it was like when she used to love on me when I was younger and ready for bed.
I already felt guilty for having her go to a nursing home in the first place. It was not hers or our family's first choice. We kept her home as long as we could after our dad passed away in 2018 the day after her 75th birthday. There was home care OT, PT, nurses and doctors that helped us in keeping her home. She made progress. Then there was the week that things took a turn and the day the ambulance came to take her to the hospital. She went to a hospice facility for a few months. She rebounded health-wise and was released from the hospice program. By then, she could no longer stand on her own. Staff was using a lift to get her in and out of bed.
We were blessed to find a good facility. Many of the staff have become like extended members of our family. When we visited, we attempted to assist staff as they are often overworked and underpaid for the skills they provide. We brought cheer up gifts, treats and encouragement. We visited other residents. We gained some 90+ year old friends that sat at mom's table for meals. In late Dec. 2019 and early Jan. 2020, mom's facility restricted visitors due to the "normal" flu and gastro stuff. It was hard on residents and staff. Emotionally. Mentally. That was weeks. We made do with phone calls to our mom on a smart phone that was becoming increasingly more difficult for her to use.
Early March, one of my brothers and I visited and brought mom a cake from her and dad's favorite hangout. There was more than enough cake to share with staff and our friends. The next day, the anniversary of her husband's/our dad's death, I received a call that visitors were again going to be restricted, this time due to Covid and the unknowns that presented.
As a family, we got it. There were states that were getting hit really hard and the goal was to keep the hospitals and staffs from becoming overwhelmed with Covid patients. We needed to "flatten the curve". That was March which has turned into April, May, June, July, August, September, and in Michigan currently, until October 31. For those of you counting, this is 7 MONTHS. With no end in sight. During this time, residents have been confined to their rooms. There has been NO communal dining. There has been hallway bingo over the intercom. We try to time our calls around that. There is television and what else?
During this time, we were allowed window visits. Thankfully, mom's facility is all one floor. Then, that gate stayed locked so no more window access. We try and do Skype which are scheduled online through the facility. Currently, Monday - Friday business hours for 20 minutes. The internet frequently acts up. A staff member stays in the room to make sure the call goes ok. Mom has an old-fashioned flip phone that on a good day has been charged, the volume is turned up, it is where she can reach it and she can remember how to use it. There is a glass door at the end of her hall. Staff has wheeled her to it and we use our phones to talk. Sometimes she is too tired to hold her phone up or she gets confused by hearing the phone AND us talking through the door. We call ahead of time to make sure her phone will be working and they know we are coming. We are researching other options. Thank goodness for technology!
We were allowed (so far) one outside visit mid-August. Allowed 2 visitors, 6' apart, no touching, but seeing mom outside: priceless. Visits were/are allowed Tues and Thurs. 10 visits/week and the weather had to cooperate. Once all the families had a chance to visit, we were allowed to schedule another outside visit. It is now OCTOBER. In MICHIGAN. I had a visit scheduled for this upcoming week. October 13. I received a call last week, that an employee tested positive so there is now ANOTHER 14 day quarantine period. Our mom and other residents have been tested NUMEROUS times during this time. How do think it goes for staff to test dementia patients more than once?
My frustration rises. I'm in Michigan. There are 422 facilities. I advocate. Others advocate. A lady in Florida gets a job IN her husband's facility to be able to see him. A national Facebook page starts. State Facebook pages start. Who do we contact? President? Our Washington congress people? Nope state level. Governor? Canned email responses back that may, but probably not even cover what we emailed about. Our state senator and representative? Which county? I'm in Ottawa. My mom's facility is in Kent. I went with Ottawa. I got a staff email response from my rep and a phone call. It's election season though and the people I contact are up for reelection so where's the focus? On shuts ins that have PROUDLY voted in past elections? Who knows what happens this year? Many are not cognitively with it enough to make that decision anymore. The governor has tasked covid response to the health department. The health department issued exceptions dated JUNE 30, HOWEVER, the final say is still with the facilities. Most facilities stopped at provide electronic access (on devices the federal and/or state government provided 2 per facility). The governor appointed a task force, that to my knowledge, did NOT include a resident and/or family representatives. They issued recommendations similar to the exceptions with a bit more detail. We try to get the attention of newspapers, magazines, news stations. HEAR US! We may, or usually not, don't even get a reply.
7 MONTHS of isolation and loneliness. It is not only Covid we are afraid of. We have watched our family members and friends deteriorate during this time. Some of us have lost our resident to death. Most NOT due to Covid. The only visits that are for sure allowed are "compassionate care" for when a resident is "actively dying".
Facilities have been given an impossible task. Keep their residents healthy from Covid. BUT at what cost? To the staff. To the residents. To us as family and friends. What we are doing is NOT working. Quarantine the sick. The goal post keeps moving. The clock keeps getting reset. If the goal is 0? More will die, but not from Covid. They will die from the loneliness and isolation of trying to keep them safe from a virus that some even though positive, have few symptoms.
We took our unrestricted access to our loved ones for granted. Personally, I didn't even know that we could be kept out due to the flu or gastro illnesses, and now Covid. We're dealing with NO access currently. The tag for our pleas for help has become #therehastobeabetterway
We are not asking for unrestricted access. We are asking for an essential caregiver (not just dependent on assistance with ADLs - Activities of Daily Living) to be allowed per resident. We will meet the same requirements as employees. We will test. We will sign a waiver saying you are not responsible for us or our loved one contracting covid at your facility. We will schedule an appointment. We will walk directly to our resident's room. What MORE do you want? What more can we do? THIS is not working for the residents. Or us. Help us help you find the better way.
If religion or discussion of God offends you, please stop reading or continue to scroll to your next bit of interweb business.
I cannot close this blog post without mentioning this. When I first thought of unrestricted access, I was thinking of how often I took it for granted with visits to my mom. I also thought of my access to God. According to the Bible, there was a time when people wanted to talk to God, they had to go to a temple. The priests had to relay the requests/prayers to God. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ broke that barrier and allows us, each of us, unrestricted access to have our prayers heard. Anytime. Anywhere. The curtain of the temple separating us from God was torn.
I do not pretend to have all the answers to life's questions. I'm always willing to discuss and share what I have learned though. Feel free to reach out to me or others in your life that have made the decision to follow Jesus. My mom and dad made that decision long ago. They raised us knowing too. When we are aware of a gift, we don't want to leave it unopened. Thank you for opening your heart in consideration.
Luke 23:44-46 (NIV) It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
John 3:16 (NIV) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
www.biblegateway.com is an awesome resource if you would like to read more from the Bible.