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Care facility administrators discuss visitor restrictions

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many nursing homes, residents and staff are challenged with waiting for it to be safe to reopen, having large group settings and programs as well as allowing visitors inside their doors.

Local nursing homes and long-term care facilities now have the ability to reopen through a three-step process as long as testing within the communities remains negative, according to Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association.

Shamberg states that the first step of this process is very limited in that visitation is not permitted, while the second step allows for small visitation outdoors and window visits with screenings, temperature checks and social distancing.

The third step allows for much more visitation, larger communal settings in the dinning hall and programs and more, though all steps require personal protective equipment, social distancing, universal masking and screenings.

Shamberg also said that if at any point a facility receives a positive COVID-19 case, they must go back to step one, even if the test turns out to be a false positive.

“It is unfortunate,” Shamberg said. “But it has to be done to protect the health and wellbeing of residents and staff.”

Even though many facilities like Susque-View Home have reached the second step and are allowing limited visitation with friends and family, the lingering concern is about the residents and their mental health.

The Presbyterian Home has moved into the third step of the reopening process.

“It is a very real concern,” Shamberg said. “That is why we are advocating for institutional care versus being cared for at home; it is a sense of community, not just visitation, but a sense of community that you get. All of that has come to a stop.”

Renna Engel, The Presbyterian Home administrator, and Jamie Aurand, Susque-View Home administrator, have been working to start the process of reopening not only by purchasing and providing electronic equipment to do Zoom and Skype calls with family and friends but to coordinate small group programs, virtual meetings and more to bring back a sense of community and “keep spirits up.”

“It is nice, we have had success with the virtual calls with the families and the doctors,” Engel said.

She added that some residents have their own cell phones and iPads to make calls while others were provided equipment.

Aurand said that they have purchased equipment to aid communication.

“The residents are not able to freely move around,” Aurand said. “They are not allowed to walk out into the garden or dining hall, which is frustrating to them. That is what they were used to.”

Engel said The Presbyterian Home has started outside “neutral setting” visitation with plexiglass barriers, social distancing, PPE and masking and screenings.

Once the weather starts to become colder, these visits will return inside.

Susque-View Home is doing similar visitations outside in their pavilion with 6-foot distancing.

Both facilities have also started small programs of less than 10 people or one on ones, including small bingo settings and music programs.

“It gives residents a little bit more freedom,” Engel said.

The dining hall at The Presbyterian Home has also reopened with social distancing. “We have been really fortunate,” she added.

Aurand also said that the Susque-View Home has also opened their beauty shop for one-on-one appointments.

“It has certainly improved the moods of the ladies,” he said. “It is human nature, most of us are social beings. It has been very frustrating.”

“Overall we have been in a great environment,” Engel said. “Our residents are in good spirit.”

She added that the facility has made signs for the residents to hold up to their families during window visits.

Engel also reflected on a special experience where family members held a birthday parade during a window visit including a cake and balloons for the resident’s birthday.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “It was great that they were able to do something.”

Both facilities also have various therapy services, including mental health, physical and occupational therapy, available for their residents.

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