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Susan Lucci Stays Connected With Family During Pandemic

Actress talks about keeping in touch with her mother, who's quarantined in an assisted-living community

a collage of three snapshots of susan lucci with her mother




Today, we have two stories to share. First: How a daughter is staying connected to her mother, who is quarantined in an assisted living community, during the coronavirus pandemic.


We always remained really, really close. We had our moments, as every mother and daughter do. Certainly as Erica Kane and Mona did. I was a 15 year old Erica Kane. My mother and I would laugh when we would see those scenes played out on All My Children.

You might recognize that voice as Emmy-Winning actress and New York Times best-selling author Susan Lucci. She played Erica Kane on the popular daytime drama ‘All My Children.’ Lucci and AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins are here to tell us about the impact of the pandemic on families with loved ones in a care facility and how quarantines are everyone’s new reality. They teamed up for a Tele-Town Hall on May 21, to bring visibility and change to the dire situation in care facilities.



And later in the program, we’ll hear from the team behind a new PBS documentary series that honors Asian-Americans’ place in American history, and how celebrating it is especially important during the pandemic. We’ll hear from co-narrator Tamlyn Tomita, whom you may know from the hit medical drama “The Good Doctor,” and producer Renee Tajima-Peña.


Hi I’m Bob Edwards


And I’m Wilma Consul


With An AARP Take on Today.

Nursing homes, assisted living, and skilled nursing facilities have been called “ground zero” in the fight against the coronavirus. Residents are especially vulnerable to infection, and social distancing isn’t possible when staff are helping a resident with bathing, dressing and eating.

What’s more, if your loved one is in one of these care facilities, it can be difficult to keep in touch. Technology limitations and understaffing can be serious roadblocks. While limiting visits can help control the virus, the experts say, every family is strained by quarantine, and common sense remedies need to be put in place.

Here’s AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins on the many care facilities struggling to keep up with the pandemic.

Jo Ann Jenkins:

There are over 1.3 million Americans living in nursing homes. Reports suggest that more than 153,000 residents and staff have been infected, with the death toll now at about 30,000 and rising. In some states, over half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long term care facilities.

These numbers are absolutely devastating. And we know they are likely much higher because to date, reporting has been inadequate and varied across states.


That’s why staying connected to her mother was top-of-mind for actress Susan Lucci when the pandemic began.


My mother's 103. What can I say? My mother was always a beautiful woman, and I was always very, very proud of her.

She, I will say, in the community we lived in, she was always taking part in,, in the charitable organizations that were here locally in the town I grew up in on Long Island, kind of leading by example in that way, because then you learn as a child to give back. That was something that I watched her do. My mother had been OR nurse, an operating room nurse, and like many women of her generation she stayed home once she had children. Her mother, my one American grandparent, my grandmother, lived with us until she died when I was 11. It was a very happy childhood and so on. And just wonderful. We always remained really, really close. I mean, really close and great relationship.




About five years ago, Lucci and her family decided to place her mother in an assisted living facility in South Florida where she could get the care she needed.




My mother lived on her own in her own home until she was 98. I never wanted to be the daughter or the child who dragged my mother out of her home kicking and screaming to assisted living. I always thought if a doctor tells me that's indicated and better for her, and we will evolve to that place, then fine. That's really what happened. The last couple of years, my mother had actually two falls, and she broke the same hip twice. She recovered very quickly. The second time, the recovery was not as complete. She wound up having to use a walker. But it didn't stop her. She still wore her leopard kitten heels, and she still loved to go shopping and have lunch with me when we were down in Florida visiting her. We would take her out to dinner.

This evolution for my mother to go into assisted living was very much a result of those falls, because she was living on her own. That's very vulnerable to be living on your own. My dad passed away 17 years ago. She was vulnerable.




Despite her falls, Lucci said that her mother was as witty as ever.



When she was being interviewed by one of those doctors, she was... Actually, she had fallen, so she was in the hospital there in that area with one of the doctors. They told me later, again, how spunky she is. They asked my mother, in terms evaluating whether she should be living on her own or be better off in assisted living, they asked my mother, "Do you know where you are? Do you know what building this is?" And my mother said, "Don't ask me any trick questions. I'm not an architect." So, spunkiness was there, and it remains to today, which is one of her most charming assets because it's never coming from a bad place. It's just spunky. It's just who she is, and that's great.



Before the pandemic, Lucci would fly from New York to visit her mother several times a year. But now with stay at home orders in place and in-person visitations cancelled, she can’t visit as often as she used to. Luckily, her mother’s facility provides virtual visitation.



That's how we can see each other. We love seeing her. I have to say she enjoys seeing us. When I say "us", it's my husband and I both who will speak to her, because she's always very happy to speak to my husband too, whether we go down there, and we will again of course after this COVID crazy time is passed and they are no longer under lockdown, we'll go down again. But it makes her very happy to see us both, and she has not forgotten us, or forgotten our relationships. She's happy and smiling.



Jenkins said that nursing homes around the country need more resources to ensure the wellness of nursing home residents, their families and staff.


Jo Ann Jenkins:


Care facilities must have the personal protective equipment (PPE) and the testing they need to identify cases and prevent the spread of the virus, in addition to adequate staffing for the provision of care.


Care facilities must be transparent and publicly report on a daily basis whether they have confirmed COVID-19 cases, and residents and families need information when loved ones are discharged or transferred out of their room or facility.


Virtual visitation must be made available and facilitated as a safety measure between residents and their families.


AARP has a long history of fighting for people in nursing homes and their loved ones. The coronavirus has exposed some real weaknesses, and we’ve heard from so many families.




At this week’s AARP tele-town hall, Jenkins and Lucci conversed with people around the country who are feeling disconnected from their loved ones in care facilities.

To play us out, here’s a clip of the town hall.

Lucci gave words of encouragement to a caller who, like Lucci and like so many people around the country, was feeling disconnected.


Our first caller is Roxanne from Maryland.


First I’d like to say that I’m a big fan of Susan’s.


Aw, thank you.


My question is for both of you. I have a sister right now who lives in a nursing facility and it’s really hard for us and we’re really worried about her. What advice do you have?


Well first of all, when I hear you speak this way I know what you’re going through and I so sympathize with you. And if I may say so that Jo Ann if the facilities will answer those 6 questions when you ask them, I think that would go a long way to allaying your worry. That would be my wish that all across the board that nursing homes and facilities would come up with these things that Jo Ann is asking the questions about and act on those and then we would never again have to sit at home and hear these terrible statistics coming at us and being shocked by them and then worrying about our loved ones that are in such facilities.


We’ll soon post the full tele-town to this podcast page. For the latest information, visit AARP dot org slash coronavirus.



The stories of how Asians became part of the American fabric do not fill history books. In the past 50 to 60 years, the population of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders collectively has grown to more than 24 million. That's from the American community survey in 2018. The month of May is the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the diverse cultures and traditions in many forms.


Streaming and showing on PBS is a documentary series called Asian Americans.


The series producer, Renee Tajima-Peña and the series narrator, actress Tamlyn Tomita, talked to us via Zoom from their homes in Los Angeles.


The project had been in the works for many years. And when Tamlyn Tomita was asked to narrate with actor Daniel Dae Kim she said she jumped at the chance to tell stories that have been largely unknown to the general public.



These are American stories of grit, of desire, of wanting to make the best lives as they can for these new immigrants coming to America from Asia, but also more importantly, in providing a future for their children and for their grandchildren, which is just typically American.

And the newest thing is that, it's Asian Americans, it's not Asian hyphen Americans, and that's the newest evolution in how we designate our own community. And I think it's just a constant pursuit of becoming a more perfect nation.


I watched it, I binged watched it and I had a lot of emotions. This is a very, very good primer. There's lots of information. But the other night I'm going through my newsfeed on Facebook and a few chats talked about, well, why is this not included? This is important. And all that talk, right? So Renee, my question to you, how did you all decide which stories to include in the series?

Renee Tajima-Peña:

Well, people want stories to be told and there aren't enough venues. It's growing, but that's why everybody wants this story and that story and their own story to be told. But, it's television. So the first thing is, and we wanted to reach not only an Asian American audience, but just also non-Asian audience, a general audience.


Really the series is constructed around personal lives and the stories of people who shaped history or who were eye witnesses to history, or who have a personal connection; quite often the children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of the key people in that history. And to me, that's what engaged the audience. It's not a textbook. It's not a kind of academic overview of the history.


And we wanted stories that spoke to tipping points in American history. How were Asian Americans really central to those tipping points? I mean, when I was growing up, I always thought that we were just this little group of people off to the side and we had nothing to do with what was the engine of American history, but then looking at the stories, we find out that today, right now, there are babies born with birthright citizenship.

There are babies being born at this moment whose parents are immigrants, but they're born on US soil. And so they have citizenship. And that's because of this young guy, Wong Kim Ark, late 1800s, a time during Chinese exclusion. Asians were hated and were targets of anti-Asian violence. He was a restaurant worker, US born, so he was a citizen. He took a visit to China. On his way back, he was denied re-entry because he was Chinese. And he challenged his denial of re-entry in the US Supreme court. And he won.


Now Tamlyn, for you being Japanese and Philippina, which episodes of stories spoke strongly about your family's experience?

Tamlyn Tomita:

Episodes two and four, the ones that I was able to narrate.

<Sound clip from documentary.>

Because of my father's side and he being a second generation Japanese American or known as Nisei, his family was interned in Manzanar and his grandfather was interned specifically at Heart Mountain. My great grandmother died and my great grandfather was reunited with my grandfather and my father's families at Manzanar.


So, this is one of those stories that not very many people know, everyone knows Cesar Chavez. So to put Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, a lot of Philipinos I'm sure, are saying thank you. And a lot of Philipinos even don't know about them.

Renee Tajima-Peña:

And for people in the audience who don't know the story, Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong were both farm workers in Central California and also farm labor organizers. I mean, real pioneer organizers. And they sparked the California Grape Strike.


And I have to say, we tell the story not to say, well, the Filipinos were there first. We tell the story because we really want to show that solidarity. And also we wanted to really mention that Dolores Huerta had been working with Larry Itliong for many, many years before that. She's a woman so sometimes she gets a little forgotten too.


Renee, aside from being a producer, you're also professor of Asian American Studies at UCLA.

And I say one of the most important filmmakers along with Christine Choi for the community, for the documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1987 for best documentary.

We see some of the crucial moments in that case. Can you talk a little bit about that and how relevant is this case to what's happening now in the Asian American community during this pandemic?

Renee Tajima-Peña:

Well, in 1982 in Detroit where Vincent Chin was a young guy who's just about to be married. And he was the adopted son and only son of Lilly Chin, who actually had just lost her husband the year before. But the environment in Detroit at that time was, it's middle of the recession and economic crisis. And the auto industry was really taking a hit. And so, Japanese car imports were blamed. American auto manufacturers were still were producing gas guzzlers, and people want to buy fuel efficient cars because of the oil crisis.

So they were buying Toyotas and Mazdas and they're buying Japanese cars and Japanese auto imports were blamed, by extension Japanese people were blamed. And of course, a lot of people can't tell the difference if you're Japanese or Chinese or Korean or whatever. So, Asians had a target on their back.

And Vincent was at his bachelor party with his friends. They encountered these two auto workers, Chrysler workers, Ron Ebens and Mike Nitz. There was an altercation and they bashed his brains in. They killed him. Nine months later, they pled guilty to manslaughter. They were given a $3,000 fine and three years probation. And somebody says, it's like getting three years to pay off a car. And it just set off this huge civil rights campaign for justice among the Asian Americans.

And he fast forward to today, it's the same thing. There's this public health crisis, which has become an economic crisis. And from the top from the president and senators and national leaders are characterizing Corona Virus as the so-called Chinese virus or the Kung flu, which puts the target on the backs of all of us, of all Asian Americans.

It's like 1980s all over again.

It's like 911 all over again when South-Asians were the targets.


I know we could talk about a lot of the other scenes, but there's one scene that really tugged at my heart. And that was the one in San Quentin prison.

Renee Tajima-Peña:

There's a program called Roots. And the motto is, "If your history you know yourself". And they teach Asian American studies course to inmates at San Quentin. And a lot of them are young Southeast Asians who grew up in homes that were, their parents were really traumatized by the war and by their flights from Cambodia or Laos or Vietnam. They grew up in really tough neighborhoods.


The statistics on the recidivism rates of people who have gone through the program, it's an incredibly successful program. But emotionally, it was just so beautiful. Grace Lee directed that episode and just the feeling in the room with everybody's hearts and minds, again so open, it was just unforgettable.

Tamlyn Tomita:

I think that when I got to narrate that, and I'd asked questions in the room to Grace, if you know your history you know yourself spoke to me and I can even hear it in my voice when I read those words. It's such a simple lesson, not just for those prison inmates at San Quentin, but for anybody who is interested in knowing who they are. You just need to know your history and you get to go back and see back through the windows of time as to how you as a person, how your families were looked at, how your communities were looked at by the mainstream communities.

And it's important in knowing and understand that we're all interconnected, that we're all related, that we're all united and that we can be united in moving forward.

Bob: Thank you to our guests, Susan Lucci, Jo Ann Jenkins, Tamlyn Tomita and Renee Tajima-Peña.

Wilma: If you liked this episode, please email us at

Bob: A big thanks to our news team.

Wilma: Producers Colby Nelson, Danny Alarcon and Paola Torres

Production Assistant Brigid Lowney

Engineer Julio Gonzales

Executive Producer Jason Young

And, of course, our co-host Mike Ellison.

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

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

Wilma: And I’m Wilma Consul.

Bob: Thanks for listening, and stay safe.

Actress Susan Lucci shares how she stays connected to her mother despite being quarantined in an assisted-living community. And AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins discusses the push to protect residents and staff in these facilities.

And in our second segment, we hear from the team behind a new PBS documentary series that honors Asian-Americans’ place in American history, and how celebrating it is especially important during the pandemic.

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