It’s on every television news channel, splashed across the front page of every newspaper, blaring from radio stations and popping up on every social media site: the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness known as COVID-19.
Many of us are working remotely, sheltering-in-place at home, going out only for necessities. Others are in essential occupations, working in hospitals and grocery stores, providing necessary services. One thing we all have in common is the stress caused by concerns for health and finances, as well as the disruption of our routines.
For people with elderly loved ones, the stress may be even more acute. Although the virus can affect people of any age, senior citizens have been especially hard hit. Many have underlying health conditions, increasing their risk. And this contagious virus has taken a particularly hard toll on nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
If you have a loved one in a long-term care facility in Michigan, you are undoubtedly concerned about their safety. If you live nearby, you might ordinarily visit them. But many nursing homes are, wisely, limiting visitors in order to limit the exposure of their residents and staff to the coronavirus. And Michigan has issued a shelter-in-place order, meaning that even if the nursing home would let you in, you might not be able to go there.
If you don’t live nearby, you may be feeling even more anxious. Stories like those of the nursing home in Washington state that was hit early and hard by the virus, stoke those worries. But there are things that you can do to reassure your loved one, and have greater peace of mind for yourself.
If your loved one’s facility already communicates with you regularly, that’s a good sign. Chances are, they will continue to keep you updated about their preparations for the coronavirus. If the home hasn’t been terribly forthcoming, you may want to be more proactive.
If you don’t already know, call the facility and find out who their “point person” is for coronavirus communications. You may want to ask questions like:
Loneliness and boredom can be an issue for nursing home residents at the best of times. With coronavirus concerns, however, even the programming and gatherings that are usually scheduled to brighten residents’ days may have fallen by the wayside. Social distancing may mean that residents cannot all go down to the dining room at their accustomed time, or gather in a common room for recreation.
And, of course, with the restrictions on visitors, residents are surely missing the opportunity to see and spend time with friends and family members. All of this can be very isolating. Fortunately, technology can help relieve both boredom and loneliness if residents have access to a tablet or smartphone (and are comfortable using them).
You should ask your loved one’s facility if there are devices available for them to Skype or FaceTime with you, even once a week. (Also ask how these devices are cleaned, and if there is staff available to help residents use them, if needed). If the facility doesn’t have devices, ask if you can provide one for your family member, and how it will be secured if you do. If face-to-face visits via technology are not an option, you may want to call on the phone more often than usual to speak to your loved one. If possible, call at regular times so your loved one will have something to look forward to.
If you are concerned about your loved one contracting coronavirus in the nursing home, you may be considering moving them out, perhaps into your own home. Obviously, this is a fairly momentous decision. Your heart may be in the right place, but think the decision through very carefully.
If your loved one is currently in a nursing home, chances are they need a higher level of care than you can provide on your own. You may be able to hire in-home care, but how will you be sure that those helpers are not exposing your family member to the virus? Will you be able to afford the level of assistance your loved one needs? 24-hour care, which nursing homes have, can be very difficult and costly to replicate in the home environment.
Another real concern is whether your home is set up for safety for your loved one. If they have poor mobility, they could be more likely to suffer a fall or other injury in the home, which could require a visit to an already-overburdened hospital, and likely exposure to the coronavirus.
Fortunately, nursing homes are subject to stringent federal regulations, and are probably one of the safer places for your loved one to be right now. (Assisted living facilities, on the other hand, are governed at the state level and may not offer as much protection).
If you have any concerns about the way your loved one’s nursing home is being run in this pandemic, you should contact the state’s long-term care ombudsman. If you have other concerns, such as about management of your loved one’s assets, we invite you to contact our law office for assistance.