COVID-19’s toll on the elderly: Social separation, visitor restrictions, and rising rates

Local News

Summerville, S.C. (WCBD)– According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s demographic data, 897 people in nursing homes and extended care facilities have died due to COVID-19. The group makes up 25% of virus deaths in the state.

Jean Nielson of Summerville said she worries elected officials aren’t paying close enough attention to the virus’ toll on the elderly.

The emotional and social impacts of the virus have weighed heavy on Nielson and her family who haven’t seen their matirarch, Laura Albinus, due to social distancing regulations in nursing homes.

83-year-old Albinus has dementia and is non-verbal. Nielson said before the pandemic she would visit her mother at Hallmark Healthcare Center four to five times a week.

“I would come there and say, “hi mom!” And she would turn her head,” said Nielson. “On a good day she would reach out her arms for a hug,” she continued.

Nielson said she would play familiar gospel music, show Albinus pictures and read her books, all common practices shown to aid people suffering from cognitive decline.

“We would bring the great grand kids there and she would hold them and of course she would love, loving on the babies,” she said.

Nielson has not seen her mother in five months and said she worries about the quality of care her mother is receiving in her absence.

“It’s been terrible,” she said. “My concern has been knowing that it has been difficult to ensure care on a normal basis and not being able to see her at all,” she continued.

Over the past six years, Nielson has raised concerns with staff, filed reports, and had meetings with management over care practices. Care is even more limited now that facilities are working under Covid-19 measures.

“The best interaction she can have right now is when a nurse comes in to do physical care and I pray that they are compassionate and give her some interaction during those short times,” she said.

Hallmark Healthcare Center administrator, Gwendolyn Robinson, told News 2 she understands how difficult the last several months have been on their residents and families.

“To protect the elderly and frail population we serve that is at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, we had to take the unprecedented steps of restricting all social visitation – something we would have never envisioned doing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Hallmark Healthcare Center

Last week, Neielson was notified by the facility that Albinus tested positive for the virus. Nielson said despite notification protocol the facility did not tell her that her mother was being tested.

“Of course my reaction was ‘oh my goodness, has she taken a turn for the worse’ and no one told me,” she said.

She said she was relieved to hear her mother is not showing symptoms but the process has raised other concerns about SCDHEC’s data reports.

“In order to be able to make intervention or look into the increases you have to know the current numbers,” she said.

In a letter released Friday, August 14th, Hallmark Heathcare Center reported having 50 resident cases since the onset of the virus in their 65 bed facility. Four days later SCDEC’s latest cumulative numbers listed 47 resident cases.

“If our state leadership is looking at that as a representation they are not seeing the real picture,” she said.

In response to concerns, an SCDHEC spokesperson said, “there can be delays in reporting cases and deaths associated with long-term care facilities as our epidemiologists work to verify the information and ensure it’s accurate before it’s posted online.” They added, “we provide the most current and verified information that we have at the time during our Tuesday and Friday updates of this information.”

Nielson says she hopes more people take into account the toll the virus is taking on the elderly

“We need to advocate on behalf of the elderly. We really need to have legislators really looking at the quality of life,” Nielson said.

Robinson said they understand the vital role visitation plays for residents and have worked to make sure alternative methods of face-to-face communication are available for everyone.

“Specifically, our facility has procured iPads so residents and families can use FaceTime to see each other while they talk and we encourage our families to participate in “Window Visits” where they can go to their loved one’s window to see them.  While we understand this is not the same as sitting in your loved ones room or giving them a hug, this allows our residents and families to stay connected while protecting them from increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

Hallmark Healthcare Center

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