‘We’re coming back to life’ | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors
Residents, families happy as restrictions lift at senior living facilities
In the spring of 2020, nursing homes and assisted living facilities were hotspots for the new coronavirus, forcing them to shut their doors to visitors, cancel all activities, and keep residents isolated in their rooms as more and more people grew sick and died.
Since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Rhode Island Department of Health, the number of resident deaths in these types of facilities has exceeded 1,500.
But a year later, as the number of people vaccinated continues to increase and restrictions across the state begin to finally lift, there’s been a noticeable positive change among residents and their families, report staff from local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Rules still vary from facility to facility, with some places implementing more conservative measures to stay on the safe side for now, but on the whole staff say they are feeling optimistic about the future after a year shrouded in uncertainty.
Maggie Ramos, director of wellness at Darlington Assisted Living in Pawtucket, said that it’s been emotional for families to reunite with their loved ones as restrictions have begun to lift.
“They went from looking at each other through a window … now to see them, be able to hug and sit together in the same room and have a conversation, it’s wonderful,” she said.
As long as residents and their family member are vaccinated, Ramos noted, they are allowed to hug while wearing masks. “Residents love it,” she said of being able to visit with family members again.
Last year even with talk of developing a vaccine for COVID-19, Ramos said it seemed so unachievable, but with the rollout of the vaccines this year, “we see the light at the end of the tunnel. … We’re not as stressed or anxious.”
Everyone can all take a deep breath now, she said. “We can see the changes and getting back to normal for us and the residents.”
Staff at Darlington have been following all guidelines from RIDOH, and Ramos said since January limited visits have been allowed between family members and residents. At that time, there were plexiglass separators and families weren’t allowed to touch or hug. As the months have gone on, restrictions have begun to ease up, she said. “We’re coming back to life.”
Residents are allowed to sit together in the dining room again, and activities are beginning to come back, she added. “We can have larger groups for activities, which is wonderful,” she said. “They love it. They missed it.”
While the goal of an assisted living facility is to keep seniors active, all of the restrictions and social isolation of the past year made the place feel more like a nursing home, Ramos said, noting that it definitely took a toll on them. “They missed their family members, they missed their independence, being able to go out with a friend for lunch. … A lot of them were frustrated.”
With the restrictions easing up, seniors are smiling, conversing with each other and coming out of their rooms more, she added.
The warmer weather is also contributing to a boost in spirits among residents, Ramos noted. With two big patios, seniors can sit outside and take their masks off, which makes it easier to converse for those who are hard of hearing. Those who had trouble hearing due to the masks had stopped socializing with each other, she noted.
“With summer coming and vaccinations and lifting restrictions … the atmosphere is more happy and calm,” she said. At Smithfield Woods Senior Living in Smithfield, morale has been improving and residents are overjoyed at the opportunity to see their loved ones again, according to Alyson Walsh, community relations director. “Family visits were very emotional when we started those up again,” she said. “I feel like we’re on a really good path to getting back to normal.”
The dining rooms are reopened and activities have resumed, she noted, including social happy hours. The movie theater is back open, as is the hair salon, which was an emotional day when that reopened, she said. A book club is starting back up, and they’re going to have entertainers again.
Residents have also been loving and appreciating the little things such as the return of linen napkins and tablecloths in the dining rooms, she said.
Visits are allowed while following the current RIDOH guidelines. “We’re still being very cautious,” she said. “It’s important for people to not lower their guard.”
While things are certainly looking up, Walsh said that this past year “did a lot of damage to our seniors.” The isolation has taken its toll on many of them. “It’s sad,” she said. “They’re healthy but they’re not the same.”
Karen Bonin, of Lincoln, whose father, Ernest Rapoza, lives at Smithfield Woods, told The Breeze that being reunited with her dad was emotional. “It was great to see him again,” she said. “He looked really good. … I can’t even remember how long it was (since I last saw him).”
She said she hasn’t been able to give him a hug yet due to current restrictions at the facility, and added that she and her family are looking forward to the day when they’re allowed to eat in the dining room with him again.
Her father, she said, is happy to play bingo again.
“The (staff) there have been wonderful,” she added.
April and May of 2020 was the most difficult time for the community at Mount St. Rita Health Centre in Cumberland, according to Administrator Bill Fleming, who said they lost 20 residents to COVID-19 and that some employees left during that time.
A year later, he said he’s beginning to feel positive and noted that residents are starting to pep up again as restrictions are eased.
Visits with loved ones are allowed six days a week and are still supervised, he noted, adding that they allowed residents to leave campus to celebrate Mother’s Day this past weekend with family.
“We are opening up,” he said, adding, “We might be more conservative here (with rules) than other facilities. We want to keep everyone safe.”
Following state guidelines, everyone still has to wear a mask indoors, he noted, which is true for all facilities.
Small group activities are beginning to start up again, and the hair salon has reopened for two days a week, he said.
“I think all guidance from DOH has been terrific,” Fleming said. “They’ve been very supportive of us. I think that’s why we’re in a strong position today. We do see things opening more each week that goes by.”
Lenore Heaney, executive director of Wyndemere Woods in Woonsocket, agreed that residents have definitely been in better spirits as restrictions are beginning to lift. “They are going out with their families where a year ago that was not happening,” she told The Breeze. Activities have opened up more, she said, and residents will be going on lunch trips again. Visits are still by appointment for the moment, but she said she expects that to change soon. “Families also seem happier that they can now have their loved ones back in their homes.”