June 22, 2020
TO THE EDITOR:
Our elderly population residing in long-term care facilities have become the “Forgotten Ones.” These facilities have been under quarantine for over 100 days and families haven’t seen their loved ones other than by electronic devices, maybe a window if they are lucky.
Families have become fragmented by this virus. Spouses separated from each other, children from their parents, grand-children from grandparents, friends from orphaned elders, and so on. Many of these residents thrive on the social interaction they receive from family and friends. The contact with loved ones can improve or maintain cognitive function as well as activities of daily living. Many of our elderly are regressing without the stimulation and encouragement they once received.
Many articles that are currently circulating, discuss the negative impacts of visitor restriction in long-term care facilities. Suicidal ideations are also a major concern among the elderly. A June article from The New York Times states, “Such so-called “failed suicides” turn out to be the most extreme cases of a rapidly growing phenomenon among older Americans as a results of Covid-19: lives stripped of human contact, meaningful activity, purpose and hope that things will get better in a time frame that is relevant to people in the last decades or years of life.” (Aronson, Louise. “For Older People, Despair, as Well as Covid-19, Is Costing Lives.” The New York Times, 8 June 2020 Op-ed.)
There are also reported incidences of elder abuse taking place by facility workers. (S. Duke Han, Laura Mosqueda. “Elder Abuse in the COVID-19 Era.” Journal of American Geriatrics Society, 20, April, 2020.)
Many businesses have now been given the go ahead to partially reopen with new rules and regulations but there’s been no plan to reopen long-term care facilities for families and friends. Where’s the urgency of opening these facilities? There are regulatory agencies who have been involved in opening up other businesses but no agencies have been instrumental in opening long-term care residences. No state-run agencies have gone into long term care facilities to implement a plan on how to reopen these facilities.
As independent patient advocates, we know firsthand couples, families and friends who have been unable to visit with their loved ones for over 100 days. Families are losing their loved ones without even being able to say good bye in person or hold their hand and not let them die alone.
This needs to be addressed on a statewide level and we must stand up and advocate for our elderly and not let them be collateral damage and an acceptable loss during this pandemic.
There are solutions to opening the long-term care facilities back up and letting us see our loved ones. Visitors can be screened by a simple short questionnaire on having signs or symptoms and a quick temperature check. Use of Personal Protective Equipment in these facilities can be used effectively as used in acute care and other businesses in our state. Plans and priorities can be put in place to safely reopen. Most every long-term care facility contains an out-side sitting area and a large meeting room indoors. These areas can be designated as visitation areas. Using the specific mapping of each organization, different areas of the facilities can have separate short visitation periods for each day of the week, etc. Opportunities to visit can be managed safely and large crowds can be avoided. No long-term care facility is a closed system, staff are in and out of these facilities in staggering numbers.
It is understandable that residents of these facilities are at a higher risk due to age and underlying conditions and that stricter regulations are needed, but there are ways to help remedy the loneliness and isolation of our elderly in long-term care and their loved ones.
COVID-19 is here for the long haul; no one can guarantee a vaccine yet with outlooks for a sustainable vaccine for the public to be at least 12 months away. Let’s work together to improve the mental status of our seniors, put smiles back on their faces and warmth in their hearts.
MARILYN WHITLEY, MSN, RN, NE-BC, BCPA
DAVID WHITLEY, BSRT, CRT, RRT, BCPA
Owners of Whitley Patient Advocates