“It’s just heartbreaking. I’m missing them,” said Cheryl Richardson, a retired schoolteacher.

With visitation banned at local nursing homes, Richardson is not able to see her mother, her husband’s aunt or her neighbor, who all live at Roman Eagle Rehabilitation and Health Care Center.

The Centers for Disease Control updated guidance to America’s nursing homes March 14 to restrict all visitation, except for end-of-life situations, from family, friends and volunteers, plus cancel all group activities and communal dining.

With Roman Eagle on lockdown, Richardson has had to discontinue her twice-weekly visits to her family members and neighbor, as well as several friends from church she visits.

“My husband’s aunt, who is like an aunt to me, is 100 years old and a little confused now,” Richardson said. “She can’t hear because she lost her hearing aids. And I wasn’t able to take her to get her macular degeneration shots this week.”

She usually does her aunt’s laundry because, Richardson said, her aunt is particular about her clothes. Since the visitation ban, Richardson has been able to call ahead, though, and meet staff members at the basement to pick up her dirty laundry and return clean laundry.

“I’ll keep doing what I can,” she said.

Dan Setliff, the administrator of Roman Eagle since 1988, called the coronavirus pandemic “unprecedented.”

The facility already had implemented its emergent infectious disease plan before the ban and, Setliff said, they are closely monitoring and following guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. All visitors are now banned except for end-of-life cases, employees and vendors are screened before entering the building, all communal dining and activities are canceled and social distancing is used when possible.

“But I am confident that everything will be fine and returning to normal soon,” he said.

Staff members are helping families cope by enabling them speak to their residents by phone and will implement video communication.

“The families are very understanding,” he said. “We have sent out written communication and we post updates on our website.”

‘Bit of a hardship’

H. F. Haymore had been visiting his brother every day at Roman Eagle since before the ban went into effect.

“It’s been a little bit of a hardship,” he said. “It’s hard on the family and the patient. This is a change for me. I’ll soon be 79, so I am basically hunkering down.”

He agrees the ban on visitors is a good idea, though.

“Personally, I think it’s in the best interest of the patient and family, even though it’s a hardship,” he said.

Sandra Watlington’s 96-year-old grandmother also has been at Roman Eagle for the past six months.

She is used to having many visitors, Watlington said.

“My brother and his wife visit, my mom and I, my 4-year-old niece and my niece who works at Roman Eagle,” Watlington said. “Other family members call often.”

Watlington said her grandmother doesn’t hear well, so she gets upset when people call her and she can’t understand who it is or what they are saying. Her niece who works at Roman Eagle is able to call from her grandmother’s room, though, and helps Watlington speak to her.

“I’m sad for her. She can’t see different people anymore,” she said. “I’ve asked people to send her cards. Maybe kids who are home from school can draw pictures and send them.”

Well-received by families

Adam Wiley, the administrator of Riverside Health & Rehabilitation Center, said the residents have been grateful for the precautions the facility is taking.

“Spirits are high and many have communicated that they are relieved to have their needs met in a safe environment,” he said. “We are coordinating with family members who wish to continue to bring food, gifts and laundry.”

The center has 180 beds and Wiley said quite a few of the residents have family, friends and community members who visit within a given week.

“Last week we called each family to ensure they were aware of our visitation changes and understood that we were doing so out of an abundance of caution for their loved ones,” he said. “We have also sent regular updates via letter, email, social media and our website.”

Although communal dining and group activities are suspended, the residents can leave their rooms if they have no fever or respiratory symptoms.

“We have provided education on appropriate social distancing and effective hand washing,” he said.

The changes in visitation have been well-received by families, he said.

“When it became clear that we needed to temporarily restrict visitation we began to encourage the use of online communication products like FaceTime and Skype for virtual visitation,” he said. “Family members can call our center to schedule a video chat appointment. We are deploying iPads to the facility to facilitate this.”

Residents also can participate one-on-one with the activities staff.

He noted the facility has an electrostatic spraying system that combats viruses and bacteria typically found in shared living areas, including respiratory illness.

“Our experience is that this has been highly effective, and the technology allows for widespread sanitizing and disinfecting within the environment,” he said. “Learning about this method of patient protection has given many of our families great peace of mind.”

Living only five minutes away, Jeanie Fisk was used to visit her 88-year-old mother several times per day at the Chatham Health and Rehabilitation Center.

Now she has to be content with other ways to stay in touch. She uses an Amazon Echo 8, similar to FaceTime, to “drop in” and check on her mother.

“I’m thankful I can see her. The Echo has increased her contact with the family, and she’s been getting multiple calls a day,” Fisk said. “And sometimes I jump on it at night just to hear her snoring.

“The ones I feel most sorry for are those whose family members can’t talk to them on the phone. But this is about keeping them alive. We all need to adopt a global mindset that seeks to love our neighbors by helping to protect them.

“My prayer is that we emerge on the backside of this pandemic to see our shared humanity. This virus does not care whether we are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, rich or poor. This virus does not care about our political affiliations. May we find ourselves in the aftermath of global pandemic, doing exactly what Jesus instructed us to do: loving God and loving our neighbor.”

Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at susanelzey@yahoo.com or (434) 791-7991.

Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at susanelzey@yahoo.com or (434) 791-7991.

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