Catholic nursing homes respond to coronavirus restrictions

In R.I., St. Clare Home and Saint Antoine Community make preparations to protect residents and staff

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WASHINGTON (CNS) — The impact of the coronavirus in the United States is likely felt the strongest in nursing homes around the country, and Catholic facilities are no exception.
As of press time, St. Clare Home in Newport enacted Level 3 Visitor Restrictions as outlined and recommended by the Rhode Island Department of Health. As of Thursday, March 12, no visitors have been allowed in the facility.
In a statement, St. Clare Home said, “We understand that this may cause you hardship but we now know that older and sicker people are most vulnerable to COVID-19. Exceptions to this visitation restriction will be made on a case by case basis for families of loved ones who are actively passing. Please note, at no time will persons under the age of 18 be able to visit. The majority of our residents have telephone lines in their rooms/apartments, we encourage you to contact them directly to speak with them. Additionally you can also use Facetime if you and your loved one have smart phones. If your loved one does not have a smart phone, please reach out to our administrative assistant and they can help you use Facetime through our iPads. Thank you for your help and understanding as we find our way during these unprecedented events.”
The outbreak of COVID-19 has certainly presented a challenging time for all healthcare workers in Rhode Island including Saint Antoine Community, who also continue to follow instructions from the Rhode Island Department of Health.
“Due to the frailty of the population that resides in skilled nursing homes, rehabilitative centers, and assisted livings, it is necessary for higher safety regulations to be enforced by state officials,” said Melissa Smith, Director of Marketing and Communications for Saint Antoine Community.
Smith explained that the facility recently announced visitor restrictions and admission screening protocols that have been implemented over the last week to ensure the utmost safety of our very vulnerable population. On March 12, the Residence at Saint Antoine Community [Skilled-Care Facility] announced their upgrade to the Level 3 visitor restriction.
In addition, The Villa at Saint Antoine Community [Assisted Living] implemented Level 2 restrictions, limiting visiting hours to a five-hour window, 1 – 6 p.m., allowing those guests 18 years or older, who have not travelled internationally in the last 14 days and who are asymptomatic at the time of visit. All visitors must complete a screening process and be approved by a Villa staff member before entering the facility.
“These measures are designed to safeguard the well-being of our residents and staff, as we try diligently to protect them and visitors from the spread of the coronavirus,” said Smith. “We would like extend our appreciation to our friends and families for their patience and understanding as we navigate this pandemic. Saint Antoine Community is truly blessed to have such an outpouring of love and support during this challenging time.”
Further visitor restrictions at both Saint Antoine Community and St. Clare Home may continue to evolve over the next few days or weeks. Be sure to monitor their social media pages.
As of March 13, U.S. nursing homes and long-term care facilities, caring for the population most vulnerable to the coronavirus, have been urged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to restrict all visitation to their facilities except in certain compassionate care situations, such as end-of-life situations.
“We’re following the guidelines to the letter,” said Darlene Underhill, a registered nurse and director of clinical services for New Hampshire Catholic Charities, which operates several rehabilitation and nursing centers.
Underhill told Catholic News Service March 12 that curtailing visits could be for a “lengthy period of time” and is something residents at first seem to initially “take more in stride,” but as the restrictions have increased and for an unknown period, it is hard to know what lies ahead.
Look to local nursing homes social media pages for the latest updates.
Alain Bernard, assistant vice president of health care services for New Hampshire Catholic Charities, said the centers were working on getting residents computer tablets so they can communicate with relatives.
He said the facilities screen staff members each time they enter. They also are diligent about keeping residents and staff informed of all updates.
Underhill stressed that it is an “unusual situation” with fluid guidance requiring everyone to be flexible to stop the spread of the virus. She also mentioned the concern for staff members, especially since many of them have school-age children. Schools in the state closed March 15 due to virus concerns.
“Every day is a new situation,” she added.
Catholic Charities in Chicago announced mid-March that it was suspending senior group meals and senior center group activities but that box lunches would be made available to pick up at meal sites and individualized assistance from staff members would be available at senior centers.
As of March 15, 29 residents from a Kirkland, Washington, nursing home at the epicenter of a Seattle-area outbreak had died from COVID-19 symptoms.
A stepped-up guideline the CDC issued March 13 included the restriction of all volunteers and nonessential health care personnel at nursing homes and long-term care facilities and the cancellation of all group activities and communal dining.
The loss of visits and communal atmosphere has raised concerns about the mental health and stability of seniors during this time of heightened concern for their physical health.
The restrictions should remind people all the more to keep in touch with family members or those they know in nursing homes or assisted-living centers, by phone or email or social media if that platform is used.
Donna Buxton, head of research at the International Longevity Center in Westminster, England, said the coronavirus outbreak could be a chance for society to reset its relationship with older people.
“The kind of things we should be doing to support older people are the kind of things we should be doing anyway, coronavirus outbreak or not,” she told The Telegraph, a British daily newspaper.
With reports from Laura Kilgus, Assistant Editor, Rhode Island Catholic.