Valerie Byrnes

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Editor’s note: This column is in was written in reply to a May 12 Soapbox essay written by Hannah Thomsen, titled “Allow families to visit loved ones in nursing homes.”

Dear Ms. Thomsen:

I understand your frustrations. When you say “locked up in their rooms,” let’s hope you are not literally speaking. If you are, exercise your rights immediately and transfer your relative to another facility and call your ombudsman representative. In Cache County it’s 713-1464.

Although assisted-living and nursing homes are temporarily closed to family, and hopefully will reopen soon for all those involved, we know an initial goal in our nation needed to be protection for the highest-risk population. Our hearts especially go out to the relatives of residents in New York with Gov. Cuomo’s shocking executive order forcing nursing homes to readmit their infected COVID-19 residents, when we now know isolation protocols could have been followed and hospitals were available. This irresponsible decision cost the lives of 27,000 in New York and was sadly copied by Pennsylvania on March 29, and April 9 in New Jersey, where 10,000 more died. A very potent example of euthanasia in our country.

Most local facilities have done a tireless job protecting their residents to help stay healthy and should be commended. But I agree, it’s time to execute their reopening plans as not all healthy residents want to continue to be quarantined indefinitely. Most healthy residents want to rejoin society, regain their freedoms, yet others do still remain fearful of getting the virus. Is there a balance that can be met?

Here in Cache Valley, I can only speak for one facility, Terrace Grove Assisted Living, since I am familiar with how residents have and are being cared for there during this crisis.

It’s very true, residents have faithfully been practicing social distancing from each other, but there are many ways that are being implemented by the very hard working recreation staff, employees and administration. Yes, residents still eat separately, use hand sanitizers regularly, wash hands etc., and great lengths have and continue to be addressed daily to help meet the physical well-being of all residents, and also their emotional/mental needs.

Here are a few: Residents continue to take walks any time they want inside, and recently outdoors, accompanied by a staff member. The back patio is also open to enjoy fresh air and sunshine. Video chats can be done with family at the front windows, and family members can drop off requested items (which are sanitized and given to residents). Separate puzzle tables are set up and movies offered. Others enjoy a smaller-capacity version of Tai Chi classes, FaceTime, daily inspiring quotes to encourage, special treats baked with love by the kitchen — all little things to let residents know they are loved, special and cared for, especially during this difficult time. It’s been a good model. It’s a very challenging time for everyone. Some residents thrive from the protection protocol still in place, while others who are not sick want their freedom to rejoin society.

Since Mother’s Day is usually honored in Utah, the staff organized a “drive-by” Car Parade, where residents who wanted to participate were seated outside in the fresh air, and family members decorated their cars and drove by with hand waves, “we love you” and numerous endearing signage. Very colorful and much appreciated I’m sure.

Residents are invited outside to attend special events — 6 feet apart — and just last week they enjoyed a lovely open air classical concert of flute and clarinet. Also now by appointment, families are allowed to have a face-to-face interaction outside in the back terrace — still practicing extra social distancing.

As far as your father-in-law’s birthday, whatever facility he is in, following the Utah State guidelines, he should have been able to participate in similar activities and still have had a special birthday with the other residents. It’s difficult circumstances and he did not get the very much needed physical touch from you, but I hope you were allowed creative ways to let him know how much he is loved and to let him know he still has great value. Life is so sweet when it is honored from conception to natural death — but it does take a caring staff to do this.

In my opinion, it really comes down to how much life is really valued at all ages — those in the womb and those facing end of life in hospice. Every life is valuable and every life has a God given purpose until the end. This pandemic has caused many to realize this truth and get better at valuing all life.

To all the caregivers who go that extra mile — giving a smile, encouraging word, showing interest in residents’ lives, calming fears, offering some peace of mind — to you we all say, “Thank You.”

To each facility: How will you address the varied needs of your “at risk” residents with those who are healthy and don’t need to want to be indefinitely quarantined? What is your plan to balance the two now and in the future should another outbreak occur?

Obviously those who become infected and contagious should go to hospitals or, if not available, be totally separated. Designate a specific wing, consider a remodel, educate on isolation protocols etc. Consider what your “new norm” model will be now. What our nation has just gone through is a wake-up call for all to see life differently and make changes.

To each resident, I encourage each of you to use this time to build your own immune systems. Take a vitamin D supplement, daily probiotics, zinc, exercise, get enough sleep, stay hydrated, manage stress with a good attitude (no matter the circumstances), eat fruits, nuts, legumes, increase fiber, pray, and research for yourselves what else will boost your immune systems so you can all thrive post COVID-19 or whatever else may come around — and who knows ... you may even live to be 100.

Valerie Byrnes is registered dietitian who visits Terrace Grove Assisted Living to assist a resident with eating. She lives in Providence.

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