Since 2016, Aimee Froling has visited her 82-year-old mother at least once a week at the Goodwin House’s Bailey’s Crossroads assisted-living facility in Falls Church.
During those visits, the two women enjoyed shopping, dining out and spending quality time with each other.
But last week, Froling, of Stafford County, was told by the facility’s staff that family members would no longer be allowed access to the facility as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It breaks my heart each time I have to tell her I can’t come to see her,” said Froling, who chose not to give her mother’s name to protect her privacy.
Since last week, Froling said her mother has called her every day, asking when she will come for a visit. Each time, Froling has to explain to her mother—who has memory issues—why she can’t visit.
“It’s like a ‘Groundhog Day’ scenario,” Froling said, referring to the popular movie. “It’s hard, because she’s used to seeing me, but she’s in a safe place, where they’re trying to balance the residents’ emotional health with their physical health.”
Froling and her mother are not in a unique situation.
Last Friday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced new measures designed to keep America’s nursing home residents safe from the coronavirus, including restricting visitors and nonessential personnel and communal activities within senior living facilities across the country.
The new measures were put in place to protect America’s seniors, who are at the highest risk for complications from COVID-19.
Dr. Robert Prasse has been practicing medicine since 1983. Known as “The Country Doctor,” the Locust Grove physician makes house calls to senior citizens at their homes, as well as in facilities across the region.
Prasse is not fond of the latest isolation rules for seniors, but he sees no other alternative to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“I don’t like it, but we’re between a rock and a hard place,” said Prasse. “I realize it’s a necessity.”
Although Prasse said senior living facilities are doing an excellent job protecting their staffs and residents, he believes over time, the coronavirus will spread even further, resulting in a surge in cases once testing materials are more readily available.
“It will blossom very quickly,” said Prasse. “A month from now, I think it will be difficult.”
Sarah Delano is a registered nurse, as well as the executive director of Commonwealth Senior Living on Kings Crest Drive in Stafford. Delano said her staff strictly follows and adheres to policies and recommendations from state and federal health agencies.
Delano said essential health care providers, hospice nurses and other staff who are necessary for the facility’s daily operations are carefully screened each time they enter the facility. This includes completing a health questionnaire, followed by a check of vital signs and body temperature.
All residents are given the same check daily.
“We’re constantly telling people to wash their hands and there are hand sanitizers everywhere,” said Delano. “We’re following strict cleaning and disinfectant procedures.”
To help ease the burden of isolation, Delano said residents have been provided special headphones that enhance their ability to focus and engage in group events and one-on-one interactions. Residents are also enjoying music, as well as virtual museum tours and field trips.
“We have some really neat programs for them,” Delano said.
Although residents at the Stafford facility are confined inside and are exercising social distancing, they can leave the building for necessary doctor’s appointments.
“For example, a few residents on dialysis still have to go out to those appointments,” Delano said.
Even though family members are not permitted in the facility, they are now practicing virtual visitations with their relatives, either by phone or through social media apps. When families visit in person, they do so by “window visits,” which allow residents to see their families and loved ones through the windows of their private rooms.
“We had a family visit with their grandkids and the granddog the other day,” said Delano. “It’s heartbreaking, but it’s so sweet at the same time.”
On Saturday afternoon, Gwynne McCathorine celebrated her 75th birthday by window visit with family and friends at Fredericksburg’s Carriage Hill Health and Rehab Center on Health Center Lane.
McCathorine’s daughter, Francesca Johnson of Stafford, organized the celebration, which included decorations, a cake, birthday cards, a new television and a special meal prepared by one of the facility’s staff members.
“It’s a milestone birthday; it means a lot to me,” said Johnson. “She’s someone I look up to, and I’m very proud of her as a woman, a wife and a mother.”
Although Johnson fully understands the precautions that senior living facilities must take, she has concerns for all their residents.
“So many of them don’t have family,” Johnson said. “It’s all for a good thing, but I can’t imagine how their lifestyles are being interrupted.”
For senior residents with more acute medical conditions, confining them to their rooms for the long term is not only a concern for families, but for health care providers, as well.
“For those with dementia, they may not understand that,” said Meg Pemberton, a registered nurse as well as a certified geriatric care manager from Woodford.
In general, Pemberton said the latest no-visitor and isolation policies have many seniors feeling more isolated now than ever before. To help alleviate some of the anxiety, Pemberton suggests families and friends think outside the box.
“Deliver a small care package, communicate more frequently by phone or through social media channels,” said Pemberton. “It’s surprising the number of seniors who are on social media. Send them a picture, it will give them a smile, and will help break those cycles of isolation.”
Even with the massive amount of attention the coronavirus is receiving worldwide, Delano said seniors generally take things in stride, and several of her residents have even reminded staff members that everything will be alright.
“They’ve been through a world war and the Depression,” said Delano. “They’re used to pulling together and doing what it takes to keep the community going.”