EAST PEORIA - After three months without face-to-face visits for residents in Illinois’ long-term care facilities, some families got to see loved ones in-person this week.
Serenity Assisted Living and Memory Care resident Phyllis Mervosh, 86, sat on the shaded patio at the East Peoria facility with her little brother, Jim McCarty, 77, Thursday morning, the first day the facility began offering the visits. Not long after they were joined by another brother living at Serenity, Rick McCarty, 83. Wearing masks and not touching, the trio spent a pleasant half-hour catching up.
The COVID-19 quarantine was a big change for the McCarty family
"I used to go to Phyllis’ house at least once or twice a week, and do different things," said Jim McCarty. "I would take her and go out to eat, my wife and I and my brother Richard. We just did things together all the time, you know. It’s been a big change, cause we’re pretty close."
Face-to-face visits are important for the elderly, and particularly for residents with dementia, said Scott Peters, COO of Randall Residence, the parent company of Serenity Assisted Living. Randall Residence has facilities in Illinois and Michigan as well as Ohio, where face-to-face visits have been allowed for more than two weeks.
"We have some great stories from Ohio, stories of residents just lighting up during the face-to-face visits," said Peters. "We had a memory care resident who saw a longtime friend, the family’s dog. She had not really been talking a lot and her communication had been affected. During the visit she remembered the name of the dog - it has been three months, and she remembered the name of the dog."
Though every effort has been made to keep residents in touch with loved ones via the internet and the telephone during the COVID-19 quarantine, nothing beats a face-to-face visit, said Janelle Clark, executive director of Serenity Assisted Living.
"Our residents have missed holidays, they’ve missed birthdays, they’ve missed the birth of great-grandchildren, they’ve missed just the routine of those familiar faces, the people they love coming in," said Clark. "We have families that used to visit almost every day of the week. It’s a big deal for them to be able to visit in a safe way."
Facilitating safe face-to-face visits during COVID-19 is not a simple thing. Staff at Serenity Assisted Living have taken what has been learned at sister facilities from two weeks of face-to-face visits in Ohio and implemented it in their strategy. They have also been given fairly detailed instructions from the Illinois Department of Public Health on how to conduct those visits.
"We appreciated Illinois’ guidance because it was very specific," said Peters. "They gave us a lot more specifics about how those visitations were gonna happen."
Visits must happen outdoors. Visitors have to make reservations ahead of time, and be verbally screened for COVID-19 no more than 24 hours prior to the scheduled visit. When they arrive they are screened again, and their temperature is taken. Both visitors and residents must wear masks at all times and not get closer than 6-feet. The fact that all this has to be choreographed and monitored by staff makes it a major commitment and expense for facilities allowing face-to-face visits. But leaders at Randall Residence decided to offer it at the first possible opportunity, said Peters.
"Our model is a social model, so it was hard for us to pull back from the visits during the quarantine," said Peters. "It’s sort of core to what we do. Our facilities are designed around resident interaction and family interaction."
According to the IDPH guidelines, facilities get to choose whether or not they will offer face-to-face visits and set their own visiting hours. Serenity Assisted Living is doing it Tuesday through Saturday. On the first day loved ones could sign up for a visit, there was a lot of competition for slots, and visiting hours for the first day filled up quickly.
"We have about 50 residents who live here and we have the opportunity for about 20 families per day to visit," said Clark. "We love our residents, we love their families, so we wanted to provide an opportunity for them to connect in a safe way."
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.