[San Juan Silver Stage | October 2020 | By Sandy Walker, Lead LTC Ombudsman – Region 10]
Connection Matters now more than ever. There is no one who hasn’t been touched by this pandemic. Staying home, avoidance of friends and group meetings, socially distancing ourselves, and the masks are all inconveniences to be tolerated for the greater good. Yet, there is one group that has not had the touch or connection from their loved ones or even the liberty of going to the grocery store. In March CMS, The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, took the unprecedented step of removing visitation to skilled nursing and assisted living facilities by all family, friends, and community members. I want to stress unprecedented because. since the beginning of the Older Americans Act and the Ombudsman Program, Residents Rights have been promoted and protected under law. The Federal Nursing Home Reform Law requires nursing homes to “promote and protect the rights of each resident” and stresses individual dignity and self-determination including the Right to Access Visitors of his or her choosing, at any time.
It soon became apparent that there were unintended consequences of removing visitors to spare our most vulnerable from possible exposure to the virus. Within 2 months, this Ombudsman was hearing of the rise in resident depression scores, loss of hope, confusion, weight loss, incontinence and decline. The incidence of resident to resident assaults, expressions of desire to die, feelings of being in jail, anger and frustration have been reported to me and other Ombudsmen across the nation.
The brunt of resident emotional support has fallen to our much beleaguered long-term care workers. They have done their best to fill in for families and visitors in addition to attending to all care needs. Your Ombudsman program recognized early in this crisis that virtual resident contact and communication needed to be made a priority and supplied all facilities in our region with an IPAD tablet. Residents and families have used the device to stay connected, celebrate milestone birthdays, see new grandchildren and connect with their physician. Community wide efforts to visit residents through windows made the isolation somewhat bearable. Community members, churches, organizations, individuals have all worked to cheer and lessen isolation. Thank you to each of you that reached out to make a difference to our elders!