Is loneliness more deadly than COVID?
Whether depression among nursing home residents unable to see loved ones is more likely to kill them than COVID-19 is sparking a meeting between county and state authorities.
Some nursing homes have made accommodations for family visits but some have not.
Nursing homes were an early target in the fight against the pandemic, county commissioner Randy Dallke said Monday, but commissioner Kent Becker worried how residents were holding up when denied family visits.
“We have to get some way to get family in there,” Becker said. “It would be better for them to die of COVID than to die of depression.”
County health administrator Diedre Serene said “something needs to be done.” She has urged concerned family members to contact legislators.
“If families aren’t in there, I think they lose the will to live,” Serene said.
Long-term care facilities draw up their own reopening plans. The health department helps but doesn’t have authority to tell facilities what to do, Serene said, and assisted living centers are not regulated the same way as nursing homes.
County nursing homes have received equipment to test for the virus, but some have run out of testing supplies and won’t have more until late October.
Becker said one family member who has tested negative should be able to visit residents.
Commissioner Dianne Novak said she thought not being able to see loved ones violated residents’ civil rights.
Becker proposed calling a meeting with legislators to discuss the issue,. The other commissioners agreed.
Serene recommended commissioners also meet with nursing homes’ boards of directors.
“Some advocacy needs to be done,” Serene said.
Commissioner Randy Dallke said some facilities haven’t even facilitated relatively visiting through windows.
Often residents don’t communicate don’t hear telephone calls well,and don’t see well with glare on windows, Serene said.
Serene said the state needed to revisit pandemic requirements put on nursing homes.
“We’re never going to know the number of deaths from depression,” Becker said. “All we’re going to know is the number of deaths from COVID.”
Commissioners instructed the county clerk’s office to set up a meeting as soon as possible.
Becker wondered whether the state would sue the county for taking nursing home visitation requirements into its own hands.
Amy Boudreaux, director of Marion Assisted Living, said families were allowed to begin visiting their loved ones at her facility about a month ago.
Families make appointments for outdoor visits in a courtyard gazebo. They must wear masks, and a staff member watches from a window, she said.
“We’re doing them in an area that can be monitored, where they are viewable,” Boudreaux said.
Before visits were possible, staff noticed the isolation residents, she said.
“They were very lonely,” she said. “Having the outdoor visits has definitely helped. It’s not by any means back to normal, but it definitely has helped.”
The center is working on a reopening plan, but what that will look like when it’s finished is not known, Boudreaux said.