Precautions help protect seniors in care facilities

| Joe Ruff and Barb Umberger | March 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

“This is something we can all do for one another,” Father Matthew Ehmke told the congregation at 10:30 a.m. Mass March 8 at the senior living complex St. Therese of New Hope.

Presiding at the Mass, he was addressing liturgical restrictions in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, such as not using holy water and avoiding physical contact during the sign of peace, in order to curb spread of the coronavirus.

Just 10 days later, as the virus spread across Minnesota, Archbishop Bernard Hebda suspended all public Masses.

Now, Catholic residents of St. Therese watch Mass on television in their rooms. Father Ehmke is exploring the possibility of distributing Communion to residents of the independent and assisted living facility. Visitors are not allowed in, unless a loved one is deathly ill. Then, it’s only two family members at a time. Residents can leave to go shopping and meet other needs, and many still eat in the dining area, but only two at a table, as they abide by rules for social distancing set by health officials, Father Ehmke said.

St. Therese is one example of nursing home restrictions that have gone into effect in Minnesota and many other parts of the country in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and the respiratory illness it causes, COVID-19.

Visitor restrictions are designed to keep seniors healthy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Eight of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. have been adults age 65 and older. The advanced age of many long-term care residents, underlying health conditions and proximity to others can increase risk.

Facility administrators and clinical staff look to ongoing guidance from organizations including the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and local and county public health agencies. The agencies regularly communicate specific guidelines on topics ranging from cleaning practices to visitor screening and restrictions.

The focus is on residents, but effective policies and procedures also help protect staff members, vendors and visitors from becoming sick or passing on illness.

Beyond compliance with policies to protect residents’ health, many facilities prioritize keeping family members informed and keeping life as normal and meaningful as possible for residents.

At St. Gertrude’s Health & Rehabilitation Center in Shakopee, part of the Benedictine Health System, restricting visitors does not mean no contact. “We do understand and are very empathetic to ways to keep in touch with family members,” said Janis Hooey, Benedictine’s community relations manager.

The facility offers a hotline that includes updates for family members. Staff members also keep families informed and suggest ways they can stay in touch, from video chats to telephone calls — even writing a letter.

Epiphany Senior Housing in Coon Rapids posted a news release about the coronavirus and visitor restrictions to its website, making the information accessible 24-7. Epiphany also educates staff, residents and families on best practices for infection control and the symptoms of COVID-19, which often include shortness of breath, dry cough and fever.

Catholic Eldercare in Minneapolis uses technology in a number of ways to help residents reach loved ones and stay informed, including helping them use FaceTime to connect with family members using their own cellphones or computers, or a facility laptop or other computer, or even a landline, said Marilyn DuBay, a registered nurse, Eldercare education coordinator and infection control specialist.

In light of state health officials’ recommendations to avoid activities in groups of 10 or more, “we are providing for meaningful dining experiences for residents, and offering opportunities for recreational and spiritual needs in small group settings of less than 10 persons,” DuBay said.

Father Ehmke, 81, has lived at St. Therese for six years, and he helps with Masses and other pastoral care. Residents and staff are calmly implementing safety procedures, he said. Many are accustomed to similar precautions, though usually not as strict, when influenza and other viruses make their seasonal appearances, he said.

“When you get old, you’ve been through a thing or two,” he said.

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Local News