As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the nation, many people have had to make sacrifices in order to protect one another. One of the greatest sacrifices has been the ability to interact socially with one another, and there are few places where social distancing hits harder than in nursing homes.
Alison Yarbrough, the administrator at the EAMC-Lanier Nursing Home in Valley, said that EAMC-Lanier, as well as any long-term care facility, has been greatly impacted by the pandemic.
“Our main two focuses have been to keep the residents safe from the virus, while also allowing them some normalcy in daily activities,” said Yarbrough. “Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, we encouraged residents to socialize and participate in group activities. Residents were allowed visitors and outings. This is their home and we never wanted them to feel like once they came to our facility that they could never live a normal life again.”
Another nursing home that has been greatly impacted is the Oak Park Nursing Home and Retirement Living facility in Auburn. In order to maintain as much of the feeling of normalcy as possible, EAMC-Lanier and Oak Park have begun to implement several new programs.
Robyn Olive, executive director of Senior Services at Oak Park, explained that many of their traditional pastimes have had to go away or take a new form.
“Activities look very different these days in our nursing facility,” said Olive. “We have created hallway bingo and hallway exercises while maintaining social-distancing requirements and utilizing our intercom system to engage all of the residents.”
Both Oak Park and EAMC-Lanier have also implemented Adopt-A-Resident, where a staff member will visit with a resident each day.
While new games, video chat and even the strategic use of the intercom system have helped to quell some of the social needs, residents also had to adapt to new forms of healthcare. For many residents, virtual medical examinations have become the new normal.
“These social activities have been our biggest challenge,” said Yarbrough. “We want to keep the residents safe as well as providing them with something to do. The staff has done an amazing job at providing the medical care that is needed for these residents, while also providing the social care that is needed.”
One aspect of nursing homes that can be easily overlooked is the caretakers who —with increased levels of precaution, care and stress within the nursing homes — have at times found themselves more exhausted than usual.
To combat this, Oak Park has created new amenities for its staff.
"We created a retreat room for staff to take a break where there are snacks and refreshments that mostly have been donated through the community," said Olive. "This has definitely helped with staff morale."
While most of the nation is reopening, Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease specialist at EAMC, warns against the elderly being the ones to lead the charge.
"Covid is a very serious illness for those who are older, so if the country is reopening and I'm an older person or have comorbidities I will not be the first one to go out and try to reopen the country,” said Maldonado. “Maybe it makes more sense to allow the young and healthy to carefully go and try to do that. But once again, we still have to do social distancing.”
As people begin to intermingle once again, Maldonado explained that a rise in cases is not necessarily cause for panic, so long as hospitalizations remain low.
“We shouldn't be surprised; we're going to see an increase in cases. But I want to believe that we all did a good job. We'll know that by seeing an increase in cases in the community but not necessarily in the hospital. What that means is that we understood that those who are at risk for severe infection are being more cautious and taking measures to protect themselves. It's my hope that as these numbers go up, they go up among the young and healthy and protecting the ones that will eventually end up in the hospital. That's education, that's understanding social distancing and hand hygiene, masks and avoiding large gatherings."
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, as of Monday 1,695 long-term care facility residents have tested positive for Covid-19 statewide since the pandemic began. Another 1,031 employees at the facilities have also tested positive.
While those 65 years old or older account for just 21.6 percent of the more than 18,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases statewide, they account for 80 percent of Alabama's 649 confirmed deaths. As of Tuesday afternoon, Lee County has had 550 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with 103 new cases over the past two weeks, and 34 confirmed deaths.
To show your support for nursing home residents, EAMC is asking that people send in a letter or greeting card. Letters should be sent to:
Nursing Home Resident
1365 Gatewood Drive
Auburn, AL 36830
For updated guidelines and advice on the Covid-19 pandemic, visit cdc.gov.