Do you have a family member in a nursing home? You may be concerned about staying connected through the pandemic, and it is important that you try as the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas nursing homes has been rising.
Texas nursing homes have had 8,291 confirmed COVID-19 cases through Monday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Over three quarters of the state’s 1,215 nursing homes have reported at least one case of the disease, the Texas Tribune reported.
As of July 13, there had been 3,845 active cases among nursing home residents, 3,299 recoveries and 1,147 deaths.
The state released new data about coronavirus cases in Texas nursing homes Monday. Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, told the Houston Chronicle the data should have been released earlier.
When it comes to nursing home staffers who have been infected with COVID-19, there are 2,569 active cases.
It is unknown at this time when families will be allowed to visit their loved ones in nursing homes in Texas.
Restrictions remain in place to fight the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and security of residents and the staffs who care for them, according to Christine Mann, a spokesperson for the Texas Health & Human Services Commission.
The commission encourages facilities to use alternative means of communication and to submit applications to receive up to $3,000 in federal funding per facility to purchase tablets, webcams and headphones to connect residents with their loved ones.
“We are also closely monitoring long-term care facilities throughout the state and working to ensure they have up-to-date, clear information on addressing infectious diseases in their facilities. We will continue adapting our policies and procedures as conditions permit,” Mann said.
Early in July, Gov. Greg Abbott announced increased testing in nursing homes, but there hasn’t been an announcement about when families can visit or any protocol for visits to nursing homes during the pandemic.
“Once we are able to stabilize the spread of COVID-19 in those nursing homes, those same-day testing results will provide the opportunity for visitors to come and visit a loved one after being tested for COVID-19 to make sure they do not have it,” Abbott said.
RA News has been covering nursing homes and in response to our coverage, one person who replied via Twitter said they haven’t had any contact with their family member in a nursing home since February.
“91 yr o grandma @ Regency in Floresville. Hasn’t had physical contact w family since February 2020. Definite mental & physical health decline. Celebrated her 91 bday 1.5 mos b4 lockdown. She was cognitively there & talking. Now speaking 2 her thru window, 0 recognition.” The post included a heart.
Natalie Nichols, founder of Shades of Grace Ministries, wrote on Twitter that families should be allowed one essential care partner to see their family member, “@GovAbbott should lift exec order banning family care. @TexasHHSC should immediately allow 1 #EssentialCarePartner inside (w/precautions) …With goal of testing ECP’s later when testing available. For heaven’s sake, let’s don’t imprison innocent NH residents a day longer!”
What to Do
“Visitation restrictions at nursing homes as a result of COVID-19 are likely to be affecting our loved ones’ health,” said Bill Elder, chair of and clinical professor in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine. “This goes beyond simple loneliness and can result in significant health issues, both mental and physical.”
“Challenges include social isolation, loss and fear. These affect stress levels, immune functioning and emotions. Understanding the true nature of these problems may be helpful in finding solutions and alleviating the suffering of our loved ones,” Elder said.
Research suggests that loneliness in itself is less of a problem for older Americans, having more impact on younger people, explained Elder. “Isolation is the main issue. Isolation reduces emotional support, which is the opportunity to discuss how we are feeling with someone who is accepting and cares. Social isolation also reduces instrumental support, which is taking care of issues that come up in our daily lives.”
Will technology help bridge the disconnect for families and residents?
“Nursing homes can and should provide the instrumental support needed, but emotional support is hard to replace. This is the time to ask how the person is feeling and really listen,” Elder said.
“Loss can be profoundly experienced when we lose connection with our family. We have the capacity to deeply attach to our loved ones. Separation because of new placement or visitation restrictions can bring a range of responses from denial, to pleading, to anger, to grief,” Elder explained.
For those who are worried about a family member at this time, Elder provides a few suggestions.
“Contact that is consistent in frequency will help. Monitor for grief turning into depression. Apathy is different than denial. Watch out for hopelessness or significant changes in self-esteem. This is the time for more listening but also lots of reassurance,” he said.
When possible, while on the phone or through letters or cards to family members and deciding what to share, think about the best memories you have together.
“Universal favorites include topics such as travel or times in nature. Ask your loved ones to remember specific details about what they saw, heard, felt, and how it made an impact on their wellbeing, or what they learned. Talking about an experience in a place outside of the nursing home could be almost as good as being there,” Elder said.