The fear of exposure to the new coronavirus has brought social interaction in the area to a virtual standstill, but perhaps nowhere so unfortunate as in nursing homes.
In an effort to protect the elderly within their walls – an age group considered most vulnerable to the current pandemic – the state has banned family members, friends, and other outside visitors from entering. And because visitors are sometimes the residents’ only lifeline to the outside world, local nursing homes are making an effort to maintain that connection.
At Swanton Valley Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Swanton, iPads and Facebook Messenger are used daily to bring the residents and their outside contacts together. No time limit is set during the chats, which have become continuous throughout each day.
Swanton Valley staff also use Facebook and Instagram to swap photos between residents and online visitors, and allow outside visits through the facility’s closed windows, during which the parties converse by cell phone.
“It’s anything we can do brighten their lives, keep them happy, keep them in touch with their family members,” said Tim Sepesy, Swanton Valley admissions and marketing director. “They’re disappointed that they can’t see their families in person.”
The only exception to the no-visit rule is end-of-life cases, and then only two family members at a time may visit.
To offset any pall the coronavirus pandemic may cast over Swanton Valley, items have been added to the facility’s menu.
“Our menu has been spiced up. There’s been more money spent on our dietary department. The residents can get extra niceties,” Sepesy said.
The activities calendar has also gotten a charge. Residents are entertained with karaoke, baking and planting sessions, Bingo, movie nights, ice cream socials, and video games.
“We want to keep them active. We want them participating, having fun,” Sepesy said. “There are quite a few things we are doing that are above and beyond normal.”
That includes sewing sessions by a group of residents who are making masks to aid health care workers during the pandemic. “It’s almost a community service from within,” Sepesy said. “It makes them feel like they’re giving back to the community, like they’re part of the effort.”
He said some residents have expressed anxiety over COVID-19. Their fears are allayed in part by a mandate that all staff members wear masks and during regular meetings with administrators. “They’ve been educated to the best of our abilities. They are uniquely aware of what’s going on,” he said.
Fulton Manor in Wauseon provides residents and their family members with laptop computers so they can stay in touch via Skype and FaceTime. Staff members also assist residents with phone calls.
“They’re trying to find ways to keep everybody connected,” said Steve McCoy, Fulton County Health Center director of marketing and planning. “They’re trying to remove any barrier they can.”
The facility also maintains visual contact between residents and their families by allowing visits at windows.
For residents who may not receive visitors, staff members have increased one-to-one conversations and social activities to keep them engaged and interested.
“The residents are making the ultimate sacrifice of any age group because they’re generally isolated from the outside world,” McCoy said. “Having these ways of being able to communicate with their loved ones…or being allowed to have social interaction with others is crucial. I have to give these people credit for how well they’re doing in these unusual times.”
He also credited the Fulton Manor staff for increasing their cleaning duties.
“They’re working twice as hard,” he said.“We do serve an extremely vulnerable population. Everyone is doing everything they can.”
The added precautions are important due to the residents’ age range, McCoy said. “It’s uncomfortable, but it really is making a difference,” he said.
In the event a resident tests positive for COVID-19, the facility plans to set up an area for isolation.
“We ask for continued prayers and support from the community,” McCoy said.
Visitors also have been banned from Fairlawn Haven in Archbold during the coronavirus pandemic, with the exception of end-of-life cases. Staff members don’t wear masks or gloves due to limited resources, but some have been offered homemade masks by community members.
Mari Yoder, Fairlawn Haven director of development and community relations, said to counter the isolation brought on by the pandemic the facility has increased one-on-one activities in residents’ rooms. “We can go in and read, color, play games, and just spend time with them,” she said. “Most residents want that because they’re not getting visitors right now.”
Residents also have access to Skype, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger. And they visit with family and friends through the facility’s windows, “although I haven’t seen a lot of that,” Yoder said. “Right now, with the stay-at-home order, it’s hard for the people to come out.”
Residents have followed news of the coronavirus pandemic, so most are understanding of the limitations Fairlawn Haven has set. “I haven’t heard a lot of complaints or concerns,” Yoder said. “They’ve been very caring and compliant with it. They’re just thankful we let them see their family members.”
Staff members are following the same protocols in place at other nursing homes during the pandemic, including six-foot distancing. However, the facility has found it difficult to follow that rule with the residents, who require care up close.
“That’s virtually impossible. It’s not an option,” Yoder said.
She said Fairlawn Haven’s clinical staff and management team work diligently to keep up with changing guidelines from health organizations. But they‘re always anticipating the next step.
“We’re all doing the best we can,” Yoder said. “And, unfortunately, the rules change every day. What everybody’s learning about this disease is changing every day. It’s a moving target.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.