April 3, 2020 

The Thing Missing from the COVID-19 and Nursing Home Discussion
by Laura Ginett 

After reading the front-page Tribune story about COVID-19 and nursing homes, I became frustrated by what was missing. Towards the end of the article, there were quotes by an attorney I know well who was described as someone who rails against the nursing home industry to protect the elderly. Even this attorney recognized that we are currently asking nursing home staff to do something extraordinary in the face of an unprecedented crisis. I scrolled the internet to find the article that talked about what was missing. Since I could not find it, I decided to write it.

Let’s first look at the name of the facility we are talking about. The first word, nursing, encapsulates a host of trained staff members. Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) handle all activities of daily living for residents, from personal hygiene to assisting with meals. The work is often difficult; residents with dementia can become verbally or physically aggressive as part of their underlying disease. They often have multiple medical conditions and require complex care. The well-trained bedside nurses are joined by specialty nurses in wound care and restorative nursing, physical, occupational and speech therapists, and nutrition experts. The Directors of Nursing, who work closely with the staff to train and support them, join with other facility leaders, including the Administrator, to care for their residents. The foundation of a nursing home is the selfless care of others.

The second word is home. Over the past few weeks, we all have learned more about what it means to have a home and to be home. As you moved to shelter in place with a close friend, significant other, parent or sibling you were looking for comfort and kindness. I have been in hundreds of nursing homes throughout the course of my career. I like to duck in to see what activity is being done with residents. It is nice to hear the music of my parent’s generation being played or old movies with Cary Grant being shown because to reminisce, at any age, brings joy. In addition to rendering excellent nursing care, each staff member works to create a fun and loving home. Maybe not everyone to a person but I can tell you from experience it is most.

What was missing from the article is what comes after the wagging finger. What can we do to help? On the psycho-social front, we can do something that always helps to ease anxiety, thinking of someone other than ourselves. We can join one of the many programs that have been put in place to connect residents in nursing homes to the outside community. At Legacy Healthcare that means participating in the “Letters of Love” pen pal program. School children have been matched with residents and letters have begun to go back and forth as the youngest and oldest members of our community connect. If you are a teacher or know a teacher, ask them to participate in this program or one like it in the nursing home closest to your school. Young children who cannot yet write letters can draw pictures. People of any age can send a note of encouragement. Nursing Homes are currently helping the elderly with technology so that they can connect with their families who have been asked not to come into the facility. Do you have an extra computer that you no longer use? Computers are needed for the video chats that are being arranged between family and residents. That would help facilitate this much-needed interaction. Some families are coming to the windows of the facilities with letters of thanks to the staff and messages of hope to their family members and friends. Use these websites now set up for photos, prayers, and cards to let these members of our community know, residents and staff, that we see what they are bravely doing and we are thinking about them. If you have a family member in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility see if they have a program already in place to express gratitude to the staff and if not, get one started. At Legacy Healthcare it is called, “April Showers of Support.” What will your initiative be called?

For those of you who have the means to do so, please send personal protective equipment to these facilities. Most facilities need surgical masks. Some individuals are sewing masks and dropping them off. Yep, some individuals in their 70’s and 80’s are sewing masks for their peers who live in nursing homes. Call the nursing home in your area and ask what they need most. Staff members are risking their own lives to care for these residents, we can do our own part to help out. If you would like to join HPS in this endeavor, please email Jonathan Tindor. I am hopeful some of the Plaintiff’s attorneys who are my friends will ask me what they can do to help them. Those residents without children or friends of their own looking out for them need us to step up.

Hospitals are now asking Nursing Homes to take COVID-19 positive residents to make room for the sickest COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Nursing Homes need to segregate these residents from the residents who do not have this illness. Let’s make their job easier and donate supplies. Nursing Home Administrative Staff are on calls with the CDC and CMS and are doing all they can to protect their residents but they need our help. A nursing home in New Jersey just closed because of a lack of supplies to care for residents. We can help to prevent that outcome in our own states.

Finally, I recommend that if you want to be uplifted, look for the recent story from PruittHealth. Their mission is “Our Family, Your Family, One Family.” The Administrator at a facility in Georgia recently got married in the nursing home so that all of her residents could attend. If you are not tearing up yet, she was walked down the aisle by a resident who had to do a lot of work in PT to do so. Those are the stories that are missing from our newspapers and television but they are happening each day none the less.

Your letters can be emailed here.
Please contact HPS to learn what you can do to help.