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Nursing homes getting creative with family visitations

Those living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities already understand isolation. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, isolation has elevated to a new level.

“Our residents are starting to feel it,” admitted Timber Creek Village administrator Shannon Logan. “Our residents are completely stuck in their apartments. They are not coming out for any reason other than having to go out to the doctor ... and now most doctors are using iPads (for appointments).”

Family members and visitors are no longer allowed into nursing homes and assisted living facilities to keep the novel coronavirus from infecting a vulnerable population.

According to the latest Indiana State Department of Health statistics, 32 percent of the 3,437 reported cases of COVID-19 are men and women age 60 and older. And 88 percent of the 102 deaths reported are in that same age group.

“The staff is constantly wearing face masks and gloves and sterilizing and wiping things down,” said Logan in an effort to keep COVID-19 away from the facility that opened in November.

Just this week, Otterbein Senior Life nursing home in Franklin reported 19 cases of residents and staff with COVID-19.

In a time of crisis, staff and residents have to be creative while passing the days.

Activities are now done one-on-one or in large rooms where residents can be more than six feet apart.

“We’re trying to lighten the mood as much as possible,” said Maggie Miller, communications and resident services director for Heritage House. “We’ve been playing uplifting music and having the residents in the hallway outside their room dancing. That went over really well.”

Technology helps with the communication limitations. Residents and their families cannot be in the same room together but they can talk through apartment windows or online with assistance from staff when necessary.

“We are trying to set up appointments (online),” said Miller. “The staff is helping with that since a lot of residents don’t have cell phones.”

The use of Facetime, Skype and Zoom have helped residents in this time of crisis. Timber Creek even has a dedicated iPad to help with communications.

“It keeps residents connected with their families and have some face-to-face time,” said Logan.

Families also can talk on the phone or use white boards to send messages through windows and doors while standing outside the facility.

“It’s sad,” said Logan, who understands how restrictive the policy is even though it is necessary. “I’ve sat and cried with residents as they are talking to family.”

The Heritage House and its residents recently started a new program called “Seniors Supporting Seniors.” On Thursday, Gov. Eric Holcomb closed down schools for the remainder of the school year which has caused stress for graduating seniors who are unsure if they will walk across a stage and receive their diploma.

“They appreciate that high school seniors are having a tough time too,” said Miller. “It’s something to encourage them by writing messages to (high school) seniors. They wanted to do something positive for the community.”

Photos of the messages can be seen on the Heritage House’s Facebook page. Miller said she hopes the high school seniors will send messages back to the residents.

Not only are the restrictions tough on residents, they are tough on staff as well, who have had to add extra duties to their daily routine.

“It has added a lot to our workday everyday,” said Zach Simpson of Ashford Place. “We have a lot more guidelines to do everyday.”

Staff are checked before their day starts and sanitation and sterilization is a routine part of the day now, according to Simpson.

“It’s just another change (for the staff) but this definitely feels like one of the safer places to be,” he said.

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