Staying Festive

Dietary Manager Rena Reck (left) and SPJST Senior Living resident Lenolia Johnson (right) open presents for Johnson’s birthday. SPJST and other El Campo nursing homes have followed safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting visitors and group activities among the residents. These social distancing precautions have been difficult, but facility staff are doing their best to keep residents from being isolated.

Out of the many Texas businesses to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, nursing homes and assisted living facilities were among the first. Although social distancing during the crisis can be lonely, staff at local facilities have been working hard to maintain resident morale, facility leaders say.

“The staff has done a wonderful job of holding on and keeping (COVID-19) out of the facility at this point … that’s our main goal to keep everybody safe and happy,” SPJST Senior Living Administrator Rowena Tabler-Smith said.

Adults age 65 and older are among the most vulnerable groups concerning coronavirus. Eight out of 10 U.S. COVID-19 deaths have been individuals in this age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In U.S. nursing homes, there have been about 111,500 total cases and 30,800 deaths, as of June 15, according to Texas nursing homes reported about eight deaths per 1,000 residents, placing 37 among nursing homes compared to other  states.

To protect elderly individuals living in care facilities, in-person visitations were banned from Texas nursing homes in mid-March. More than three months later, visitors are still not allowed.

“It’s very hard for them,” Meridian Assisted Living Administrator Adrian Alameda said. “Some of them don’t understand the concept of it all, and not being able to see their loved ones. All in all they’re adjusting the best that they can.”

Alameda got emotional speaking about how her residents have reacted to the pandemic.

“Some (residents) just think (their families) just left them,” Alameda said. “It’s very heartbreaking ... When they have the window visits, some of them are crying. I’ll be glad when this is over.”

Meridian staff have tried to keep up resident morale by continuing group activities like bingo during the pandemic. The residents wear masks and sit six feet apart during the game.

Staff at Meridian and SPJST also spend time with residents, walking with them around the facilities or outside.

To help residents struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia, SPJST staff have emphasized individual sense therapy during the pandemic.

“A lot of times when you have people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s their sense of smell helps to trigger some of the older memories that they may have,” Tabler-Smith said. “If you have something that triggers that sense of smell, then it can trigger that memory. They can kind of reminisce on what happened in past times.”

Tabler-Smith and Alameda both believe technology has been helpful to residents wanting to stay in contact with loved ones. Residents at both facilities have kept in touch with family and friends through video calling or with window visits where loved ones stand outside residents’ windows while calling them on the phone.

“We’re doing everything that we can to not isolate the residents at this point,” Tabler-Smith said. “We have been working with them individually.”

As far as how the public could help residents through this tough time, Alameda suggested sharing kind words through a letter or card.

“Send them some cards and let them know that other people are thinking about them and they’re not in this alone … I think that would kind of cheer them up,” she said.

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