Tag Archives: Nursing

Together Again: Documenting Nursing Home Reunions After One Long Year

Author: Sarah Mervosh
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

The pandemic kept nursing home residents and their families apart. Photographers for The New York Times were there when they finally reunited.

A daughter holding her mother’s hand. A son overcome that his 95-year-old mother survived the pandemic. A stoic family patriarch, suddenly in tears.

After a year of excruciating lockdowns, these were the scenes at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as they began to open up this spring. Before the arrival of vaccines, one in three coronavirus deaths in the United States had ties to nursing homes and similar facilities.

The New York Times sent photographers across the country to document the reunions between family members. For many, it was the first time they were able to be together, hold hands and hug in more than a year.

In interviews, which have been edited and condensed for clarity, families recalled a deep fear that they would never see their loved ones again. When the time finally came, they were flooded with a year’s worth of emotion in a single instant: joy, relief, love — and grief for all the time that had been lost.

Jim Tinkler, 84, has been a resident at Focused Care at Fort Stockton in West Texas since 2018. During the pandemic, his wife, who had also lived at the facility, died after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. Their family could not visit before her death. This month, Mr. Tinkler reunited with his son, Wayne Tinkler, 48, daughter-in-law, Beverly Tinkler, 53, and grandson, James Tinkler, 15, for the first time in more than a year.

BEVERLY TINKLER: I was the first to walk into the room. He looked up and saw me and just immediately put his head down and started crying. I went up and gave him a hug. It was very overwhelming, just the joy of seeing him again. He would just take Wayne’s hand and hold it and start crying, and then the same thing with James. I’m sure he felt that he had been abandoned. I don’t know that he understood why we couldn’t come, just that we quit coming.

WAYNE TINKLER: They were in separate rooms, because of my dad’s dementia and my mother’s Parkinson’s. But they were right across the hall from each other, and he would typically go down there most every day. My mom passed away Jan. 29. We did have a funeral for her, a graveside service, but my dad was locked down at the nursing home. My main concern was he wouldn’t know us when he finally saw us. It was really good that he knew who we were. Just him knowing that we were there, that we were back, was a huge relief.

Con Yan Muy, 93, has been a resident at the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living nursing home since 2019. Anita Li, 24, grew up with her grandmother and previously visited daily. For a year during the pandemic, she saw her grandmother only a handful of times through a window or at a distance. Even now, her visits remain limited, as is the case at many facilities.

ANITA LI: I was hiding in the bathroom when she came in. It was a surprise. She didn’t recognize me initially because I had my mask on. I am going to be honest, I was kind of sad. I am one of the most involved persons in her life, and she couldn’t recognize me. I immediately just started patting her legs and her arms for better blood circulation. I had brought some dumplings and also brought her some sesame balls that she really enjoys. We made a video for the rest of the family for her to say hi.

It’s like a sigh of relief that we could finally be together, but also knowing that this was a one-time thing, and not really sure what the future holds. Am I going to see her every week face to face? Can I eventually take her out on walks where she can get some sun? What is the new normal, and how much can we be involved in her life post-quarantine?

Marie Fabrizio, 95, has been in assisted living at Reformed Church Home in Old Bridge, N.J., since 2017. During the pandemic, she saw her family for limited visits through a window or outdoors at a distance. When her son, Dan Fabrizio, 59, surprised her with a visit last month, it was the first time they had been able to embrace in more than a year.

MARIE FABRIZIO: Of course I miss my family. It’s lonely. Thank God, I have friends who are here. We play bingo. We have arts and crafts. Seeing my son, it was a surprise. I was crying, and he cried with me. It was such a beautiful feeling. I didn’t want him to leave. It’s hard to let go.

DAN FABRIZIO: It was like a year in review — all the things that went through my mind in the past 14 months. Thinking, what if my mom passed away? Thinking about the things we wish we could have done, the things we sacrificed. We have a beach house down at the Jersey Shore. I take her down personally three times a year — Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day. Thinking that she would not have had that chance, and just being hopeful she has the chance to do that this summer. Hearing my mom’s voice in person — it just felt like, it wasn’t a recording. It wasn’t the telephone. It wasn’t a Zoom. It was live. She got through this. I sat in my car, and I cried.

Catherine O’Mahoney, 82, came to ArchCare at San Vicente de Paúl in New York City in 2015 after a cancer diagnosis. Because of the pandemic, Carolyn Austin-Tucker, 62, had not seen her mother in more than a year until they were approved for a visit this month.

CAROLYN AUSTIN-TUCKER: She looked beautiful. She had her new glasses on. They did her hair. She had a beautiful beige lace top on. I brought her lo mein with extra shrimp, Lorna Doone cookies and a ginger ale. She smiled a lot. She laughed a lot. She was happy. The dominant emotion was happiness, to see her well, looking good. I was a little saddened because I realized the year that we missed. Aging is a process, and every moment is precious. The whole reality set in. We missed all of that time. We were happy to see each other, but it was bittersweet.

Dolores Hiwiller, 90, has been living at Quality Life Services – Sugar Creek in Worthington, Pa., since 2018. Before the pandemic, her daughters Karen King, 67, and Sue Shirey visited their mother multiple times a week. Aside from window visits, it had been a year since they had seen each other in person.

DOLORES HIWILLER: I didn’t see them in person at all. Only through a window. I missed touching the most. Holding. It was pretty awful. I took one day at a time. That’s all I could do. With the help of the Lord, I made it through each day. When I could finally see them, that was a very wonderful day. It’s like we had gotten through the worst that there was. We had made it.

KAREN KING: It was from March of 2020 through March of this year. She would occasionally have panic attacks. I’m a psychologist. My job was to to calm her down. And then she got Covid. It was scary. I thought we were going to lose her. The first day, we didn’t know we were going to be allowed to touch her. My mother and I are not “hug me all the time and give kisses.” We were brought up in a German family — we got a pat on the shoulder. But just being able to touch her, I was crying. I cried the whole way home. I didn’t know how much I had missed it until I got it back.

Warren Young, 64, came to the Marigold At 11th Street, an assisted living facility in Washington, D.C., about seven years ago after suffering a stroke and heart attack. In this case, it was his mother, Lucille Young, 87, who had been waiting to visit her son.

LUCILLE YOUNG: I used to come and visit him almost every weekend. We’d sit and talk, laugh about old times. The pandemic happened, and that was it. It was pretty hard for me not being able to see him, being a mother.

WARREN YOUNG: This past year has been a nightmare. You can’t go out, go walking, do things for yourself. You can’t associate with family. I liked Sunday dinner. She’d come over on Sunday and drop dinner off before going to church. We’d sit and talk and watch TV. During the pandemic, I waved from the window and talked to her on the phone. You miss some things when you don’t get to do them, you know? I missed my mom. This is the lady that raised me, birthed me, took care of me. From a distance is all right, but it’s not like that personal touch.

COVID-19 ravaged Texas nursing homes. Here are the stories behind the numbers.

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Carla Astudillo and Karen Brooks Harper
This article originally appeared on The Texas Tribune: Main Feed

‘Mom Is Really Different’: Nursing Homes Reopen to Joy and Grief

Every day for a year, Kathy James peered at her mother through the window of an assisted living facility outside Chicago and dreamed of the day they would be together again.

That moment finally came this month, when Ms. James packed a goody bag full of family photographs, a Sunday copy of The Chicago Tribune and a container of potato soup, and met her mother, Renee Koerber, 90, inside the nursing home.

“I said, ‘Mom, we’re in the same room!’” said Ms. James, 63, her heart swelling with relief.

They had made it.

But sitting several feet apart in a common area, where they were not allowed to hug, Ms. James was also startled at how frail her mother looked. She seemed to grow tired after just 15 minutes. “I thought I would be so happy,” Ms. James said. “And I just feel such grief because of the year of time I have lost and I will never get back.”

Many American nursing homes have begun to welcome visitors again after a year of excruciating lockdowns. The Biden administration this month published sweeping guidelines[1] allowing indoor visits in most cases. It is a profound change that comes as vaccinations ramp up, reaching nearly 100 million Americans[2], including a majority of people in nursing homes.

Even as the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week[3] of a possible fourth coronavirus surge, nursing homes are so far holding steady, reporting drastically fewer cases and deaths since the start of vaccinations. The improved outlook means that across the country, people are once again greeting loved ones in nursing homes with bouquets of flowers, with homemade pudding and lemon bars, with news from children and grandchildren.

Yet the swinging open of the doors has also exposed new consequences of a pandemic that has killed more than 179,000 residents and employees[4] of long-term care facilities and left many others withering in isolation.

“A year lost is a big loss,” said Pauline Boss, a family therapist and professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota.

Nursing homes now offer an early glimpse at what everyone may face in trying to go back to normal after a year of separation and stillness. Some reunions may be tinged with grief, others with reminders of all that has changed.

Dr. Boss said the experience of families coming back together a year into the pandemic reminded her of research she had done on husbands returning home to wives after war, or cancer patients who suddenly learn they are in remission. “Things don’t quite get back to normal,” she said.

Nursing homes have been centers of the pandemic since the beginning, when an outbreak was first identified at a facility outside Seattle. Across the country, one-third[5] of all coronavirus deaths have been linked to nursing homes.

As a geriatrician in San Francisco, Dr. Teresa Palmer, 68, was well positioned to advocate for her 103-year-old mother, Berenice De Luca Palmer, after federal officials recommended last March that nursing homes shut down to visitors. Dr. Palmer did local news interviews[6], checked on her mother often over Zoom and even accompanied her to occasional doctor’s appointments.

But when Dr. Palmer finally walked into her mother’s room this month, she was shocked to find that her mother, who had shrunk to 98 pounds, was spending all of her time in bed.

Dr. Palmer tried to raise her mother’s spirits, helping her write a letter to a cousin one day, bringing pizza for lunch the next. But by the third day, it became apparent that the problem was far more serious.

Dr. Palmer took her mother to a hospital, where she said her mother was told she had an advanced form of pancreatic cancer.

“I’m sad and angry,” said Dr. Palmer, who has found herself reflecting on all that her mother missed in the past year. Trips to the beach. Sunflowers in bloom. Family meals complete with pasta, wine and the elder Ms. Palmer, the matriarch of their Italian family, presiding over the dinner table.

“It’s the quality time that has been lost,” said Dr. Palmer, who has since brought her mother home for hospice care.

For others, emotions have ranged from euphoria to concern.

“My mom is really different,” said Shirley Kwong, of her 85-year-old mother-in-law, who lives in a nursing home in the Bay Area and has grown more confused after a year apart. “Worse than before.”

Adriane Bower, 59, thought her mother, Angeline Rujevcan, 89, looked older, maybe a little weaker. Still, Ms. Bower said she was “over-the-moon happy” just to be able to sit with her at her nursing home in Crestwood, Ill. Though they were not allowed to hug, she knew she was one of the lucky ones.

“My mom survived,” she said through tears.

The new federal recommendations[7] allow for indoor visits in most cases, regardless of whether people have been vaccinated.

But like many policies during the pandemic, the federal guidelines have rolled out haphazardly across the country. Some people have been allowed to hug, hold hands and visit in their loved one’s room. Others are required to schedule 30-minute appointments in public areas.

Almost no facility is completely back to normal, and with coronavirus cases ticking upward again, some fear that even the limited access could be halted again. Under federal guidelines[8], one new case can temporarily shut down visitation in a nursing home, though visits may resume if an outbreak is not widespread.

In New York City, Henry Grullón, 50, had been anxiously waiting to see his grandmother, who lives at a large facility in the Bronx. Until last week,[9] New York state guidelines required that facilities be coronavirus-free for 14 days before allowing visitors.

So it was a welcome surprise when his grandmother, Catalina Perez, 98, was wheeled into the lobby on Friday. Mr. Grullón’s mother, who is 81 and had been despondent over their separation, inched toward her, crying. “I need to hug her,” said his mother, Ana Grullón, who set aside rules urging families to stay apart and embraced her mother for the first time in a year.

“She kept just saying, ‘mom, mom, mom,’” Mr. Grullón said. For the moment, he pushed aside his worries that his grandmother had lost weight and seemed depressed amid the pandemic. “My God, it was incredible,” he said.

Experts worry that some of the physical and cognitive changes experienced during the pandemic could become permanent because it is often difficult for older people to regain strength after losing weight or becoming bed-bound. The lost year has been particularly consequential for people with dementia, some of whom no longer recognize family members.

“That is time that you are not going to get back with that person,” said Lori Smetanka, executive director at the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, an advocacy group for residents and families. “We don’t know how to reverse that.”

A year ago, Janet Hooks still recognized one person in the haze of her dementia: her husband of 62 years, Chauncey Hooks. Each day, she scanned the hallways of her nursing home in Worthington, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, waiting for him to visit.

But at the beginning of the pandemic, Mr. Hooks grew suddenly ill with what doctors said was the flu. He died March 12.

After holding her father’s hand in his final moments, a daughter, Lori Turberville, drove from the hospital to her mother’s nursing home to break the news. By the time she arrived, the facility had been shut down.

Ms. Turberville dreaded sharing such upsetting news with her mother over the phone, and decided to wait until she could comfort her in person.

“I didn’t think it was ever, ever going to last this long,” she said.

A year later, Ms. Turberville, 60, is thrilled to be able to have daily visits again. Brushing her mother’s hair and feeding her small bites of vanilla swirl ice cream have sparked something inside her mother in ways that window visits never did. Still, she has yet to tell her mother about her father’s death.

Her mother is weaker than she was a year ago, she said, and doctors have advised her that conveying that news now may do more harm than good.

So Ms. Turberville has taken to reassuring her mother with some version of the truth: “You know how much he loves you.”

Still, she worries each time she catches her mother’s gaze searching the halls.

“It really does go through your mind: Is she waiting for him to walk down there?” she said. “Sometimes I feel like, after 62 years of marriage, she deserves to know.”

While the visits have brought peace to many nursing home residents who feared they would never see their family again, others are still waiting for something else: independence.

Before the pandemic, Bruce Carmona, 63, regularly left his long-term care facility in the Chicago area, taking himself out to concerts, riding the train downtown or simply going out to grab a beer.

“I put 1,200 miles on my wheelchair,” said Mr. Carmona, who was paralyzed in an accident in 2018 and had grown to enjoy the small pleasure of cruising around town, listening to country music on his stereo and feeling the wind on his face.

Despite the new guidelines, many residents are still not allowed to leave their facilities for extended trips. So although Mr. Carmona is vaccinated, he said he is still largely confined to his room.

“If I could get out, that gives me freedom,” he said. As it is, he said, “I’m in prison.”

Matthew Conlen contributed reporting.

References

  1. ^ published sweeping guidelines (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ reaching nearly 100 million Americans (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ warned this week (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ killed more than 179,000 residents and employees (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ one-third (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ local news interviews (www.mercurynews.com)
  7. ^ new federal recommendations (www.cms.gov)
  8. ^ Under federal guidelines (www.cms.gov)
  9. ^ Until last week, (www.democratandchronicle.com)

Sarah Mervosh