October 8, 2020
Byron Smith, 91, a retired Alabama prison chaplain and pastor, hugs his daughter, Jennifer Whitaker, through a plastic window at his memory care community in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Smith Whitaker)
The article we ran on COVID-19’s impact on families living with Alzheimer’s in the Sept. 24 issue (which is also found online at tabonline.org) caught the attention of many readers, and the photo shared by our friend Jennifer Whitaker moved many of us to tears.
We’ve shared other stories these past few months about the heartbreak and difficulties related to the pandemic-forced separations and how so many families have been pleading for some type of middle ground. One article even explained how a petition had been started to get the attention of various officials.
We’ve heard from readers throughout this year about their concerns and the emotional toll the pandemic has taken.
One of our TAB Media staff members also noted early in the pandemic how her father said he was willing to take the risk of getting sick and possible death to be able to continue seeing his children and grandchildren. He wasn’t willing to give up the social interaction and hugs, she shared.
So many people in longterm care facilities have been confused because of the isolation. Their families hurt, too, because they know their loved one is hurting, and they haven’t been able to do anything about it.
Careful health restrictions have certainly been important to a point during the pandemic, but how sad has it been to learn of people going through difficult medical situations and even death without family members by their sides?
And every family who has had a loved one in a longterm care facility or the hospital in 2020 will be forever grateful for the superhero-style care and compassion exhibited by our health care workers.
So many wonderful stories have been shared about how nurses, doctors and other medical staff have gone above and beyond to be stand-in family members for patients and residents. They keep the families informed. They take extra time to provide a human touch and social interaction, and they make sure no one breathes his or her last breath alone.
As we turn the corner into the final quarter of 2020, we applaud Gov. Kay Ivey for her Sept. 30 announcement to allow more flexible visitation policies in hospitals, nursing homes and other longterm care facilities, including assisted living and memory care facilities.
Changes went into effect Oct. 2 to “allow loved ones to be reunited safely in these facilities across the state,” Ivey said. “Each patient and each resident is allowed one caregiver or one visitor at a time unless there are compelling reasons to limit access.”
Her decision follows suit with what was announced June 26 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS):
“As health care organizations enter Phase II of reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic, … the issue of patient visitation also needs to be considered. Separate guidance has been issued for Nursing Home visitation. Because hospital patients are vulnerable to potential COVID-19 infection, CMS does not recommend completely reopening facilities to visitors until Phase III. However, CMS also recognizes the significant toll of separation of patients from family and other loved ones.
“… Hospitals should develop plans for visitors that both consider patient and public health safety, as well as the emotional and care needs of patients and their families.”
The document goes on to outline various options for visitors, as well as when visitation should be restricted. Read the full set of recommendations at tabonline.org/covid-visitation.
On Sept. 17, CMS updated guidelines for nursing homes and longterm care facilities. Those read in part:
“While CMS guidance has focused on protecting nursing home residents from COVID-19, we recognize that physical separation from family and other loved ones has taken a physical and emotional toll on residents.
“Residents may feel socially isolated, leading to increased risk for depression, anxiety and other expressions of distress. Residents living with cognitive impairment or other disabilities may find visitor restrictions and other ongoing changes related to COVID-19 confusing or upsetting. CMS understands that nursing home residents derive value from the physical, emotional and spiritual support they receive through visitation from family and friends.
“In light of this, CMS is revising the guidance regarding visitation in nursing homes during the COVID-19 [pandemic].”