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The Hidden Cost of COVID – Part 3

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

Pictured on the left is Denice’s mother in February before the pandemic began. On the right is Denice’s mother after less than six months of COVID-related isolation.

If someone you love was locked away in a nursing home and you were denied access to them, what would you do? How would you react?

If no one you know lives in a long-term care facility, this would be a rhetorical question, one that you could consider with detached compassion. But when you’re prevented from seeing your mother, your father, or your spouse, detachment is impossible. These are your relatives. It’s personal.

Two Takacs McGinnis clients are in this situation. They’re sharing their stories because they believe it’s important that people understand the impact of the decisions being made by the corporations that operate nursing homes. To protect the privacy of those clients, we’ve changed the names of the individuals and of the facilities involved.

Denice J.

I’m the sole caregiver of my mother who lives in one of the nursing homes not far from where I live. I’m her only protector. It has been horrible during COVID. I can’t get in there to find out what’s really going on. All I can do is look through a window and try to figure out what’s happening. I’ve been reduced to watching my mother go downhill while I beg them to address any issues I see. And I see a lot of issues.

I have no physical contact with Mom, so it’s hard to tell how she’s really doing. The workers at the facility are okay, but they aren’t very observant. They will do the basics, but nothing more. They don’t try to figure out what’s going on unless I ask them.

When I look at my mom now compared to the way she looked six months ago, it’s like looking at two different people. When I last saw her, she was alert and engaged. Today, she can’t sit up. She can’t get her hair done. She likes to wear wigs, but there’s nobody to help her put them on.

It’s not just a matter of aesthetics. Far from it. There are safety issues. She will be sitting in her wheelchair and she’ll drop something. When she leans over to pick it up, she falls right out of her wheelchair. The same thing happens when she’s sitting in bed. She’ll drop something, lean over to retrieve it, and end up on the floor. Both have happened more than once.

Not long ago, we had two outside visits where we were kept six feet apart. Mom wasn’t able to hold her head up high enough to see who I was. When I would visit her before, she was alert and would direct me, just like normal. The physical decline is unbelievable.

The facility called me last night and said they had four more people test positive for COVID. That puts us back to square one. All the residents will be isolated in their rooms—again. I’ve done everything I can think of to get this resolved. I’ve written to my elected officials to complain. I’ve called the long-term care ombudsman for my area. I’ve even emailed the governor of Tennessee. But it hasn’t done any good. Whether you can see your loved one or not is left up to the discretion of the nursing home. And there’s nothing you can do.

Celia B.

My dad was admitted to a nursing home in the area after he had a catastrophic stroke in February. I’m his Power of Attorney and I live in another state. My 80-year-old mom is still living, and our plan was to coordinate my dad’s care with her being there in person. I flew home on March 6 and four days later, on March 10, the facility went into lockdown. Since then, my mom hasn’t been able to touch my dad. The last time Mom saw Dad was at the end of April, when they sat outside six feet apart with masks on. June was the last time that she was able to see him through the glass of the front door. They both had to wear masks.

Mom lives alone. She doesn’t have internet and wasn’t able to take advantage of the video chats the facility offered. Even though I have internet and followed up continually, it took until the end of August for me and my sister to be able to video chat with my dad.

This situation is a brutal agony that gets worse as the pandemic continues. I’m able to video chat with my dad, and mom can video chat with him if someone else gets her set up. But it’s not enough.

I’ve seen a decline in both my parents. It’s very difficult to watch. We still don’t have any idea when we’ll be able to see Dad. The nursing home says they’re working on a plan, but nothing has been communicated. The state of Tennessee has given facilities a lot of leeway to decide what access people have to their relatives in the nursing home in the name of COVID safety.

Dad hasn’t had a haircut since he was admitted.  Residents were not allowed to leave their rooms, even to shower, beginning in June.  Showers resumed at the beginning of October. The facility has lost only one patient to COVID-19, but how many of their long-term residents are failing to thrive? The whole thing has been a nightmare. It has been brutal for my parents not to be able to see each other. It is agony for me to watch and not be able to make it better. There is no end in sight.

In the final articles in the series, we’ll look at how one long-term care facility has attempted to strike a balance between resident safety and family access.

If you need an advocate as you care for an elderly loved one affected by COVID-related isolation, Takacs McGinnis may be able to help. Just give us a call at 615.824.2571.

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