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6 Questions to Ask Your Loved One's Nursing Home

What you should know if someone you care about is in a quarantined facility

Older couple walking down a hall way

Getty Images/AARP

Bob Edwards:

To curb the spread of coronavirus to residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, lawmakers around the country have banned visitors from stepping inside their premises. However, many are left wondering when they’ll see their loved ones again. 

Dealing with this has taken a toll on our first guest, Judy, whose husband lives in a nursing home, and lives with dementia. 

Judy Irish:

He's 84, with his condition, the time we have left together is so precious and to have to be forced to not be able to be with him through these it's troubling times and to not be able to even hold his hand, it's very, extremely, it kills you

Bob Edwards:

Many of you may be in a similar situation to Judy. To help you through this, we discuss the crucial questions you should ask if your loved one is in a nursing home right now.

Hi I’m Bob Edwards, with an AARP Take on Today.

Because they serve older adults who often have underlying health conditions, nursing homes and assisted living facilities are especially vulnerable to coronavirus. 

Today, a nationwide tally by the Associated Press found the number of people living in or connected to nursing homes who have died of the coronavirus to be over 10,000 -- that’s about one fifth of virus deaths in the United States.

But that number could be even higher. So far, the virus has made its way into over 4,000 nursing homes in the US. Some states have publicly reported the names of nursing homes with COVID-19, while many others have not released the names of any facilities that have had cases.

To protect both residents and staff, nursing homes across the country have banned visitors, leaving many to wonder about the health and safety of their loved ones. 

Judy Irish:

He was also diagnosed with... It started out as Parkinson's with the dementia, which made it much harder to be able to take care of him by myself. And after four years I just couldn't anymore. So in 2016 we put him into the nursing home and he has been there ever since.

Bob Edards: That’s Judy Irish, from Manitowoc (Man-ehh-toe-walk), Wisconsin, and she’s talking about her husband Bob. She had been his primary caregiver up until a few years ago.

Before the pandemic, Judy was happy to visit her husband in the nursing home facility almost every day she could. She often brought him dinner and they ate together -- and maybe sometimes a drink or two. However, as the virus spread across the United States, lawmakers started placing restrictions on outside visitors.

Judy Irish: It's very difficult not being able to even hold his hand much less be eating supper with him. I cannot visit him because of the Coronavirus, the Covid-19. We are banned from entering the building for fear of transmitting it. So I know it has to be, but it just kills me. It just, it's so extremely painful and lonely.

Bob Edwards: Now, she can’t have any direct contact with her husband and has to wait for the Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, to assist Bob in getting to a window from which he can see Judy. Often, they’re only able to see each other for minutes at a time.

Judy Irish: I can actually see him through a window, but the only window I can actually see him through, because he is in a broda chair, is way at the other end of the building, which is a good half a block long if not longer, where it takes one of the CNA's, they've got to get organized in order to drive him down to the end there and for me to wave hello and show him a sign. What breaks my heart is every time I see him I show him the sign, he'll take his hand and he'll motion to me, come in, he doesn't understand why I'm outside the window and why I can't come inside that door. So that's where the tears come in

Bob Edwards:

Then, Judy received two pieces of news. The first was about her sister’s health. The second was that Wisconsin’s Board on Aging and Long Term Care issued a memo that asked nursing home facilities to no longer allow window visits.

Judy Irish:

My brother calls me and told me that my sister from Milwaukee had Covid-19 and she was in the hospital. So I thought, okay. I hung up the phone and it was not five minutes later, the director of the nursing home called me and told me that I could not look, go visit Bob through the window anymore.

And then on the 16th we did get word that my sister passed away and I still wasn't able to visit my husband. It just, and I'm fighting tears here now, just talking about it.

Bob Edwards:

A few days later, however, the state of Wisconsin rescinded their rule on window visitations after she received the call, which meant that she was able to see Bob again in-person.

And with the help of the nursing home staff, she’s also able to call Bob virtually.

Judy Irish:

Every day one of the CNA's will call me and if they don't call me, I call them to let them know I have to see him every day. They actually called me this morning while I was still in bed. So I did get to see him already this morning, which was very nice.

Bob Edwards:

Judy's story is one of millions playing out around the nation -- and that's why AARP is offering tips and resources for families in similar situations. Here’s AARP’s Bob Stephen with the six most important questions to ask your loved one’s nursing home or assisted living facility.

Bob Stephen:

 

1. Has anyone in the nursing home tested positive for COVID-19? This includes residents as well as staff or other vendors who may have been in the nursing home.

2. What is the nursing home doing to prevent infections? How are nursing home staff being screened for COVID-19, especially when they leave and re-enter the home? What precautions are in place for residents who are not in private rooms?

3. Does nursing home staff have the personal protective equipment (PPE)—like masks, face shields, gowns, gloves—that they need to stay safe, and keep their patients safe?

 

Have nursing home staff been given specific training on how to use this personal protective equipment?

 

If no, what is the plan to obtain personal protective equipment?

4. What is the nursing home doing to help residents stay connected with their families or other loved ones during this time?

 

Does the nursing home help residents call their loved ones by phone or video call?

 

Will the nursing home set up a regular schedule for you to speak with your loved one?

5. What is the plan for the nursing home to communicate important information to both residents and families on a regular basis?

 

Will the nursing home be contacting you by phone or email, and when?

6. Is the nursing home currently at full staffing levels for nurses, aides, and other workers?

 

What is the plan to make sure the needs of nursing home residents are met—like bathing, feeding, medication management, social engagement—if the nursing home has staffing shortages?

Bob Edwards:

Thank you to our guests Judy Irish and Bob Stephen. For more information and resources about nursing homes and COVID-19, visit aarp dot org slash coronavirus. And if you want a list of the 6 questions we mentioned in the episode, see our shownotes. 

If you liked this episode, please let us know by emailing us at newspodcast at aarp dot org. 

 

A big thanks to our news team.

 

Producers Amanda Davis, Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon

Production Assistant Brigid Lowney 

Engineer Julio Gonzales

Executive Producer Jason Young

And, of course, my co-hosts Mike Ellison and Wilma Consul.

Become a subscriber on Apple podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well.

 

For An AARP Take on Today, I’m Bob Edwards.

Across the country, nursing homes are preventing visitors from entering, leaving many to wonder how their loved ones are being cared for. On this week's episode, we uncover the questions you need to ask if your loved one is in a quarantined facility.

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