By Conrad Dudderar
With infection rates down as more senior residents get the COVID-19 vaccine, long-term care facilities in Yukon and across Oklahoma are in the process of reopening.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and state health department officials have announced their goal to open nursing centers and assisted living facilities back up for visitation.
“It’s desperately desired, not just by residents and resident family members but by our staff as well,” said Don Blose, CEO of Spanish Cove Retirement Village in Yukon.
“None of us wants to have closed facilities. More importantly, none of us wants harm to come to any of the residents that we’re caring for.”
Nursing home residents have vulnerable health conditions, making them especially at risk to the coronavirus. As such, senior care facilities everywhere have had restricted visitor access and reduced activities since mid-March 2020.
This will change next Monday, March 15 with a phased reopening plan.
“Each independent facility is going to have to review, very carefully, what we’re capable of accommodating,” said Blose, who worked 26 years at the Oklahoma State Health Department.
Spanish Cove is Yukon’s largest senior care facility with nearly 300 residents – 34 in the nursing center, 45 in assisted living and 216 in independent living. There are about 165 staff members.
More large group activities are being offered on campus and dining services for independent living will reopen (at 50% capacity) next week.
“We want to open up,” Blose said. “We absolutely do.
“We want visitation. It’s good for the residents. It’s good for the family members.”
PLAN IN PLACE
To ensure a safe environment, long-term care facilities must have a reopening plan in place. These sites will consider several factors as they reopen programs and offer visitation opportunities:
• The degree to which residents have been vaccinated.
• Staffing capabilities to meet the residents’ needs for care and safety supervise visits.
• Updated federal post-vaccination guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
“I can understand why we haven’t seen new guidance from CDC or CMS on long-term care facilities,” Blose said. “This has been the most devastated area for COVID-19.
“There’s been more deaths in long-term care facilities, across the nation and in Oklahoma, because they’re a vulnerable population. It’s better to be safer than sorry.”
Long-term care facilities recently were able to start allowing indoor visitations again after county infection rates dropped below 10%. Previously, visits were outside.
“We’re almost all doing indoor visits now, but they’re more closely supervised,” Blose explained. “We have a staff member or volunteer making sure the residents are safe.”
An appointment is required.
“It has to be a ‘controlled’ visitation, where we’re not letting family members access the residential spaces,” Blose added. “We bring the resident to them.
“We’re doing it in a safe space, everyone is wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) and we clean after each visit.”
Family visitations are permitted in resident rooms, on occasion, only in end-of-life and compassionate care situations.
‘PEEL BACK’ RESTRICTIONS
More than 95% of Spanish Cove residents and 70% of staff have received the COVID-19 vaccine, but everyone is still wearing masks and practice social distancing.
“We should be able to start to safely ‘peel back’ from a lot of these restrictions,” said Blose, who served 12 years as Oklahoma’s state immunization director before coming to the Cove in 2011.
Although in-person visitations have been curtailed amid the pandemic, long-term care facilities have seen an increase in family contacts with loved ones through telephone and video calls.
“We go around to every resident,” Blose said. “Twice a week, they’re Face-timing. They’re getting more phone calls than ever.
“People are much more concerned because they haven’t been able to get in (the care facility) to see them. Most of the residents will tell you, they are hearing much more from family and feeling more strongly connected to family than they were before.”
While phone calls and video conferencing are convenient, nothing can replace face-to-face interactions for long-term care residents.
“We want them to be able to see their family members in person,” Spanish Cove’s chief said. “There’s nothing like a warm touch or a hug.
“It’s frustrating for our families, and it’s frustrating for our staff too. We want them to have that contact with their loved ones.”