Catholic nursing homes respond to coronavirus restrictions

A resident of Mount Carmel Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Manchester, N.H., is shown speaking with a member of the staff in this recent photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Mt. Carmel Rehabilitation & Nursing Center)

By Carol Zimmermann 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The impact of the coronavirus in the United States is likely felt the strongest in nursing homes around the country, and Catholic facilities are no exception.

As of March 13, all nursing homes and long-term care facilities, caring for the population most vulnerable to the coronavirus, have been urged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to restrict all visitation to their facilities except in certain compassionate care situations, such as end-of-life situations.

“We’re following the guidelines to the letter,” said Darlene Underhill, a registered nurse and director of clinical services for New Hampshire Catholic Charities, which operates several rehabilitation and nursing centers.

Underhill told Catholic News Service March 12 that curtailing visits could be for a “lengthy period of time” and is something residents at first seem to initially “take more in stride,” but as the restrictions have increased and for an unknown period, it is hard to know what lies ahead.

Alain Bernard, assistant vice president of health care services for New Hampshire Catholic Charities, said the centers were working on getting residents computer tablets so they can communicate with relatives.

He said the facilities screen staff members each time they enter. They also are diligent about keeping residents and staff informed of all updates.

Underhill stressed that it is an “unusual situation” with fluid guidance requiring everyone to be flexible to stop the spread of the virus. She also mentioned the concern for staff members, especially since many of them have school-age children. Schools in the state closed March 15 due to virus concerns.

“Every day is a new situation,” she added.

Catholic Charities in Chicago announced mid-March that it was suspending senior group meals and senior center group activities but that box lunches would be made available to pick up at meal sites and individualized assistance from staff members would be available at senior centers.

As of March 15, 29 residents from a Kirkland, Washington, nursing home at the epicenter of a Seattle-area outbreak had died from COVID-19 symptoms.

A stepped-up guideline the CDC issued March 13 included the restriction of all volunteers and nonessential health care personnel at nursing homes and long-term care facilities and the cancellation of all group activities and communal dining.

The loss of visits and communal atmosphere has raised concerns about the mental health and stability of seniors during this time of heightened concern for their physical health.

The restrictions should remind people all the more to keep in touch with family members or those they know in nursing homes or assisted-living centers, by phone or email or social media if that platform is used.

Donna Buxton, head of research at the International Longevity Center in Westminster, England, said the coronavirus outbreak could be a chance for society to reset its relationship with older people.

“The kind of things we should be doing to support older people are the kind of things we should be doing anyway, coronavirus outbreak or not,” she told The Telegraph, a British daily newspaper.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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