Coronavirus: What To Do When You Can't Visit Family During The Outbreak

Mar 16, 2020
Originally published on March 16, 2020 4:47 pm

In addition to such things as travel bans, sports being shut down, and school closures, coronavirus has led Governor DeSantis to place a 30-day ban on all visitations for nursing homes throughout Florida.

But there are some things people can do to remain in touch with loved ones in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The move was made to prevent the spread of coronavirus to people at high risk, which includes the elderly and people who have pre-existing health issues.

The only exception DeSantis has stated is in regards to “compassionate visitation.”

Anyone planning to visit a facility must be screened before entering. This can include questions about who they have interacted with and having their temperature taken.

The limits on visitors can have an emotional effect on residents of these facilities. Elaine Bloom, President and CEO of the Plaza Health Network, has had to talk to some of them about what's happening and why.

“I think our patients are scared and many of them are worried about not seeing their loved ones as often as they have in the past,” said Bloom. “But we have explained to our patients that whatever we're doing, we're doing for their protection.”

Not only are patients in these facilities scared, but also their family members who are unable to see them.

“There are a lot of family members who are really concerned because their loved ones are used to seeing them on a regular basis and it is hard in some cases to explain to them why you can't visit,” said Jeff Johnson, State Director of AARP Florida. “Of course, you're concerned for the health of your loved one who's in that facility and want to protect them from anybody bringing in the virus.”

Another major change for these facilities is the amount of cleaning. Typically nursing homes require staff to keep things clean and sanitized, but these practices are being stepped up in order to stop the spread of the virus.

One infection control procedure was already taking effect before the coronavirus outbreak spread to the U.S.

“There are some new regulations that have gone into effect just at the end of 2019 that will require nursing homes to have what they call an infection preventionist on their staff,” said Lindsay Peterson, a research assistant professor at the University of South Florida School of Aging Studies. “And this is someone who is trained to train for a deeper level of knowledge about infection and infection control.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus Coverage On WUSF

There are multiple issues in regard to these changes for those in nursing homes and at high risk. The greatest is with emotional responses to the social distancing recommendations.

“It's something that can create a lot of stress,” said Johnson. “It can lead to isolation and loneliness, it can lead to or contribute to confusion, and it can lead to other bad health outcomes as well.”

While these bans are in place there are ways people on both sides of the issue can cope. Although visitors cannot physically be with their family, virtual options are still available. Skype, FaceTime, phone calls, and letters can help people come together when they are apart.

Bloom is using another unique way for patients in her facilities to feel close to their families.

“We encourage our family members to put family pictures up on the walls,” said Bloom. “We have bulletin boards for everybody in every room so that they can see their family members' faces in those beautiful pictures.”

The photos can be mailed to facilities. But Bloom understands that people would prefer to be with their families during these times, and some patients are having a hard time processing news as easily as others.

“It's very difficult obviously when you're dealing with people who are in an advanced age, and maybe not totally alert,” said Bloom. “We have people who have some aspects of dementia. So it's very difficult to help them understand the changes in routines, and that's what we're trying to do.”

But USF Professor Kathryn Hyer, Director of the Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging, said that these bans are worth it since they're protecting vulnerable residents.

“I believe the governor should be praised for his willingness to say we're going to really hunker down and protect the nursing homes and not really allow the public to go in,” said Hyer. “And we understand that families and others may want to visit, but the risk is too great.”

Johnson wants everyone to remember to take care of themselves both physically and mentally during this time by eating healthy, exercising, sleeping, and keeping in touch with loved ones.

But for Bloom - like many of her residents and their loved ones - the worst part is the uncertainty.

“I don't know how long our community, I don't know how long people, can tolerate this in terms of normal life,” said Bloom. “This is not going to be normal life for the near future. I don't know how long it'll last, but it's not going to be easy.”

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