What coronavirus means for local seniors and services

Before Ohio ordered no visitors to nursing homes due to the coronavirus outbreak, Deb Wiltshire saw her mom five out of seven days to get her ready for bed and to do everything from putting lotion on her mom’s face to cleaning her dentures.

“I don’t have to do that. I know the nursing home has staff, but she’s my mother,” Wiltshire said. “It is an honor to take care of her.”

As the the coronavirus outbreak continues, organizations that serve older adults are working to make sure their clients needs are being met and spirits are kept up while protecting a vulnerable population from the serious risk posed by the fast-spreading virus.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are no longer having visitors. Community centers for seniors and older adult day care centers will close by the end of Monday.

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And Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration has urged those those 65 and older to stay home unless necessary.

Industry leaders in long-term care said that to provide services and keep seniors safe, they need child care for their workers and more personal protection equipment. Many facilities are also in need of video chat technology so the residents can talk to their loved ones, even if not in person.

These facilities are hoping that out-of-work restaurant employees will consider providing child care for a health care worker or apply for the positions that urgently need filled like meal delivery to older adults.

“We want to find a way to connect these individuals to temporary jobs helping to deliver meals and groceries to elders, caring for health care workers’ children, and more – and of course, we hope some stay in our field,” said Kathryn Brod, President and CEO of LeadingAge Ohio, which represents nonprofit long term care providers such as nursing homes and assisted living centers.

With all group activities canceled, gyms and dining halls closed, and residents spending a lot of time in their rooms without visitors, isolation is a major concern. Technology like FaceTime can be used to connect with family, but for some, it is simply not possible, Brod said.

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Brod said some providers are designating staff members as the “video pal”, who will go room to room with an iPad – sterilized between visits – to help residents FaceTime or call family. Virtual tours, theater performances, and other options are being shared.

If people have technology they can contact a nearby senior facility to see about making a donation, such as a laptop or iPad that can help people talk with loved ones, said Chip Wilkins, Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program director in the Dayton region.

As the virus started to increasingly spread, Wilkins said the ombudsmen saw the visitor restrictions coming, so his office spanned out and before the restrictions were in place they were able to get to every nursing home in the region and go through a COVID-19 checklist with them to make sure the facility had what they needed and had procedures in place to protect residents.

He said the cut off from visitation has been brutal for many families.

“We have some that are there six, eight hours a day with loved ones and this has been their routine for months and even years. Now they can’t and they are worried their loved one is going to think they’ve done something wrong, that it’s retaliatory or they are worried that their loved one will forget them,” Wilkins said.

Personal protection supplies, such as masks and gowns, continues to dwindle.

Pete Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, had said nursing homes are working to conserve but it’s still a serious challenge, even with conservation approaches to stretch out supplies.

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He said some families want to pull their parents out of facilities as these restrictions get in place, but it is dangerous for older adults in bad health to be out in the community and around people where they could be at serious risk to exposure to the virus.

“Mom is getting exposed to who knows what. It’s defeating the very purpose of not having visitation,” Van Runkle said.

Families separated

Wiltshire’s mother, Jean Johnson, has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember her daughter is her “daughter.”

“When she looks at me, she doesn’t know who I am, but I think she knows that there is a family connection. She knows we are very close,” Wiltshire said of her now 83-year-old mom.

Wiltshire certainly remembers all the love her mom gave her before Alzheimer’s assaulted her mind.

And the Dayton VA Medical Center budget analyst says her mom not knowing her doesn’t make the fact that she can’t visit her at a Beavercreek nursing home any easier.

A married mom to two young adult sons, Wiltshire said she last saw her mother Thursday, just prior to the ban on nursing home visitors took effect.

Jean Johnson was active with friends and in her church until shortly before her condition became so severe that Wiltshire and her brother made the tough decision to move her to assisted living and then a nursing home a year ago.

Wiltshire said it is hard not to see her mother. The nursing home offers its parents access to phones and FaceTime, but Wiltshire, who still does her mom’s laundry, said that is ineffective for her mom, who simply cannot remember conversations.

She hates the restrictions, but says she understands them.

“I would like to see her, but I am still working. I am still going out in public. I don’t want to take that to her. And if I was the one who took that to her, I could not live with myself,” Wiltshire said. “It might slow me down, but it might kill her. I know this is for the best. It sucks, but it is for the best. I don’t know what to equate it to, maybe child birth. This really sucks and we have no idea how long this is going to last.”

Birthday apart

Phyllis Wrenn spent all-day March 14 crying over a canceled birthday.

The party wasn’t hers, but it was for her mom, Eileen Shoemaker, who was turning 100 years old.

“She had been looking forward to this since was was 99,” said Wrenn, a 71-year-old retiree and widow. “I sat here in my condo and cried most of the day. Not for myself, but for my mother.”

The party was going to be a whopper, complete with flowers, cake from ele Cake Co., nearly 60 family members and friends and a local barbershop quartet arranged by Wrenn’ daughter, Dr. Kristen Terranova, an OB/GYN in Columbus.

“Her baby sister is 87, which is pretty fun to say. (Cousins) were going to come. It was going to be cool,”Wrenn said.

It was easy to cancel the cake, flowers, room rental and even the barbershop quartet, Wrenn said.

“Everybody was understanding,” she said.

The party will be rescheduled with the barbershop quartet, Wrenn said.

She says the tough part is not being able to communicate with her mother, the eldest of nine siblings — seven of whom lived to adulthood — raised on a Darke County farm during The Great Depression.

“They grew up with nothing,” Wrenn said of her mom’s large family. “Some people were OK. They were not.” Wrenn said her grandparents often could only afford to feed their children molasses sandwiches.

“My mother hated molasses,” Wrenn recalled.

Eileen Shoemaker lived on her own on a Darke County farm until she was about 90. She outlived all but one sibling, her husband John Shoemaker, who died in 2006, and Phyllis Wrenn’s husband Thomas, who died in 2013.

Eileen moved to Laurelwood Senior Living about four years after staying with Wrenn and her husband about seven.

Her hearing has deteriorated over the years.

“I have no way of talking to her (by phone). I am her advocate,” Wrenn, who typically visited her mom four or five times a week, said. “I talked to her head nurse, who is wonderful and she is trying to keep an eye on her, but they have their hands full. It is tough right now.”

Wrenn fears for the economy and for those left without work due to shutdown forced by the coronavirus emergency: schools, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, bars, and more.

“God is still in control,” Wrenn said. “I just want everyone to be careful and just follow directions.”

Keeping spirits up

At Tapestry Senior Living in Springboro, staff worked to keep residents happy and in good spirits, and created a video posted to the assisted living facility’s Facebook page, with residents joking about how they all have plenty of toilet paper at the community and meals served without having to go to the cleared out grocery stores.

The residents joked around with paper cup “phones” connecting them at different social distance spaced tables.

Shannon Burton, director of marketing, said everyone on staff is pulling together to do the work and take care of the residents. She said they have been trying to find fun things to do and residents have been talking with family with FaceTime.

“Everybody is doing what’s needed for the residents,” Burton said.

Food delivery

Doug McGarry, executive director with the Area Agency on Aging that serves the Dayton area, said they are continuing to operate and serve area residents. He said the agency is anticipating an uptick in demand for home delivered meals as the outbreak continues.

“We think there’s going to be requests from folks who up to this time have been pretty independent and things might change particularly as people get test results,” McGarry said.

Vandalia-based Ahler’s Catering & Nutritional Services, has seen an uptick local people being referred to them for home delivered meals. The meal delivery service gets all of its clients from referrals from area organizations, such as Area Agency on Aging.

Mike Burke, president and CEO of Ahler’s, said the company has not only seen an increase in referrals but they are putting together increased orders with extra food to remain prepared in case, as the outbreak situation evolves, that their deliveries were interrupted.

Burke said he can’t give his team enough credit for their work, as they drop food off to people most vulnerable to serious complications from the virus: seniors and those with underlying health issues.

The team has been doing everything they can, from temperature checks to continuously sanitizing everything.

“We’re only as good as our team, and we’re doing everything in our power to keep our team members healthy,” Burke said.

How to get help/give help

• Area Agency on Aging in West Central Ohio remains open for business and can be reached at 937-223-HELP or 1-800-258-7277 to see if their is an aging service or program that’s right for you.

• Need a job? Many senior services are hiring for meal delivery, laundry, personal care, and more. Contact jobs@leadingageohio.org to see what postings are available in your area.

• Have an iPad, laptop, Facebook Portal or other video chat technology that you can donate? Contact a senior living facility near you to see if they are in need and work with the facility to arrange a drop off. Many facilities have no video technology to let residents see their family.