As COVID cases climb again with the omicron variant, there is no place where the fear factor lingers more than in nursing homes.
“I’m still going to sleep at night wondering what’s going to happen next,” said James Cox, president and CEO of Paramount Senior Living, which has 13 facilities in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio. and in Delaware.
It’s been more than two years since lockdown, and for many care home residents and families, it’s been a tough road to some sense of normalcy.
In this Special Assignment Report, Channel 11’s Angie Moreschi examines where we are today in these facilities that have been so devastated by COVID-19.
Visitors are welcome again
It’s been a while to come, but for the most part nursing homes and assisted living facilities have finally reopened to visits.
Two years after the lockdown, in March 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid released a memo with the latest revised visiting guidelines saying “visiting should be permitted for all residents at all times.”
At Paramount Senior Living in Peters Township, things are going back to how they were before COVID – with communal meals, games in the activity room and, most importantly, family members visiting in person without restrictions.
“COVID has been a really difficult experience,” Paramount resident Dr Bill Pope told Channel 11.
The retired Upper St. Clair School District superintendent says he misses his wife of more than 50 years beyond words.
“I don’t know how I did without seeing her all the time,” said Bill Pope, who has to use a wheelchair due to advanced multiple sclerosis.
When COVID hit, Kim Pope, who still came to visit her husband every day, was no longer allowed to help her husband.
“Oh my God, so hard,” Kim Pope said, exasperated as she remembered those days, “It was so hard. I was worried about him.”
Impact of COVID measured in lost time
For so many families, the trauma of wasting time with loved ones is one of the painful legacies of COVID in nursing homes.
Talking on the phone and visiting windows became substitutes for presence, but they were not the same thing.
Worst of all, many residents have died from COVID – some 17,000 people in nursing homes in Pennsylvania alone.
It all started so suddenly.
Mary Lou Scharf’s mother, Blanche Warcholak, was residing at Paramount on March 11, 2020, when the lockdown was announced there.
“I was sitting here with my mother at 1 p.m. All the helpers stood up and said, “They just changed the rules. You have to leave the facility now,” Scharf told Channel 11.
The doors closed by order of the state, and just like that, two years of restrictions and isolation began.
“She said, ‘You can’t leave me, you can’t leave me. You just got here,'” Scharf recalled, remembering her mother telling her.
She had no choice but to leave, leaving her 93-year-old mother behind.
“It was terrible. Horrible,” Scharf said.
At first, the Paramount owner said the lockdown made sense to protect our most vulnerable, but as the weeks went on, he even began to question state and federal guidelines.
“Everyone felt like the world was ending and we just didn’t know when it was going to end,” Cox said. “The psychological effect of pushing people away from each other was horrible.”
He says the unintended consequences have become clear.
“People not wanting to eat, people not wanting to talk, they would fall into depression, sleeping all day,” Cox recalled.
The Department of Aging’s long-term care ombudsman, Kim Shetler, told Channel 11 that the lockdown that has gone on for so long has done more harm than good.
“It was really damaging on every level,” Shetler said. “I think they now recognize how detrimental it was, and I don’t foresee you ever seeing that type of closure again.”
For Mary Lou Scharf, it’s painful to think of all the time wasted with her mom. During the lockdown, when restrictions prevented long visits, Blanche died of heart failure.
“It was so hard. It was so hard, so hard,” she said, shaking her head.
For those who survived, like Bill Pope and his wife, reflecting on this difficult time makes them cherish all the more.
“I love her and I’m glad she’s here,” Bill Pope said.
Kim Pope left us these words of wisdom for all:
“Don’t take anything for granted because your life can change like this. And ours did, didn’t it? »
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