(March 27, 2020) With the country practicing social distancing and trying to block the spread of the novel coronavirus by staying indoors and away from people, it can be easy to forget one of the most vulnerable populations: the elderly.
As COVID-19 is considered the most threatening for people ages 65 and older, family and friends may have been staying away from their elderly relatives and acquaintances, especially those in nursing homes and other special care facilities.
“I would say I think some of the other settings have it a little harder than we do,” CEO of Coastal Hospice Alane Capen said. “Nursing homes, for example, because all of the guidance that’s been coming out, talking about restricting visitors, they pretty much all say [the same thing] except in end-of-life situations.
“It is impacting our patients to an extent at our Coastal Hospice at the Lake inpatient unit and our hospice patients who are in the nursing facilities, but they are allowed one visitor at a time,” she continued.
Capen and her team have designed a rack card that tells both patients and family members to check if they have left the country within 14 days, show any signs or symptoms of the coronavirus (fever, cough, sore throat) or come in contact with someone who potentially has the virus.
“We are giving these [cards] to our family members so that they can ask their own visitors,” Capen said. “We are asking them to talk with the patients and think about who is most important to visit right now.”
End of life care does make some exceptions to the rule, Capen said, but there are still some restrictions being put into place. In Coastal Hospice’s case, for instance, all family members must be thoroughly screened before they can enter the facilities. Even then, the number is limited.
Visitors to the Stansell House in Ocean Pines have been limited to three people per visit for any one patient. Others may have to wait in their cars for their turns while another family visits with their loved ones. For Coastal Hospice by the Lake in Salisbury, that number is limited to one visitor per patient.
“We’ve had some of our patients at the Stansell House, for example, who’ve written a list, saying, ‘These are the five people that I really want to be able to see in the next couple of weeks,’” she said. “If it’s not one of them, we’re turning them away.”
“This is just to help limit the flow of people coming into the Stansell House or somebody’s own home,” Capen continued. “We don’t want to stop visitors … it’s very important at the end of life that people have the people around them that they love.”
Coastal Hospice is treating 230 people between their two facilities and the surrounding nursing homes at this time.
“We are still providing care,” she said. “We have some volunteers who are still working. Some volunteers have chosen not to because some of them are elderly themselves and are concerned. But our volunteers are following the guidelines on hand-washing and cleaning surfaces and they’ll make sure they’re keeping themselves safe.”
Capen has seen several creative methods for family members to stay in contact with their loved ones in hospice care, such as window visits, where the patient and family members are separated by a window but can still see and hear one another.
“One of our own staff did that for her mother actually, and brought the kids, grandkids and the daughter sat outside and arranged with the nursing home to have the patient get ice cream,” Capen said. “And they had ice cream, they sat on the grass outside of the window and had an ice cream party with grandma, who was not getting visitors.”
Even if visiting is not an option, a phone call, or even better, a postcard, would mean the world to these isolated patients, Capen said.
“[Write them] a card because it lasts and you can put it on your table and look at it and remember that person’s been thinking about you,” Capen said. “Phone calls are great, but sometimes something in writing has a lasting effect.
“Hospice is a really hard time and there is a lot of impulse to try to go visit,” she continued. “But this is not the time for somebody that hasn’t been around for the last month or so to fly into town or to drive a long distance to come into town unless you are immediate family.”