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Nursing homes forced to adapt due to COVID
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The family of Ola Cope waves to her during her 90th birthday celebration as she sits a safe social distance away on the porch of Willow Branch Health and Rehabilitation. - photo by Taylor Moore

Janice Crim never imagined she would celebrate her mother’s 90th birthday while waving at her from 20 feet away.

But in yet another disruption created by the COVIC pandemic, in-person visits have been put on hold at nursing homes. The move is an effort to keep the virus from spreading in healthcare facilities where elderly residents are especially vulnerable.

“It’s been stressful,” said Crim, whose mother, Ola Cope, is a patient at Willow Branch Health and Rehabilitation. “It’s been hard on everybody. It’s so stressful not being able to see your family. People have lost loved ones they haven’t been able to see.”

The ban on in-person visitation has forced some families to wave through a window to their loved one inside. This is something Crim does every day.

“She is used to having a family member visit her every single day so this has really taken a mental toll on her,” said Crim. “People can get depressed and my mother has been in a deep depression. She cries and she doesn’t understand it. She’s lost 15 pounds. Having to write notes at the window is not the same as holding her hand.”

Crim said the staff at Willow Branch has been as accommodating as possible. Ola recently turned 90 at Willow Branch and she was treated to a drive-by parade in the parking lot of the facility. Ola sat on the front porch, about 20 feet away, while her family drove by holding signs, screaming her name and honking their horns in celebration.

Crim said, “By having the drive-thru birthday parade, Ola was able to see her family and friends outside from a safe distance.” 

It was like any other birthday with balloons and cookies, but this party was a little more memorable. 

“The staff at Willow Branch was able to help maintain her safety while celebrating her 90th birthday,” said Crim, who noted it was a special moment and something positive among a lot of stress and uncertainty.

Crim is one of many in this same predicament. 

Amanda Sain, wellness director at NHC HealthCare, said gadgets like Skype and Facetime have been an asset to families. “We are thankful for the technology. Patients are amazed by such technology.” 

At NHC, residents are able to schedule video calls, visitation through windows, and phone calls. The limitations can be frustrating, but Sain said through her experience, most people are just thankful there are options to visit their family at all. “Family is what it’s all about,” said Sain. 

Although it’s been rough for families and for residents, most people have been understanding and realize the staff at residential facilities prioritize the safety of patients first, which can result in sacrifices. 

Crim said, “What do you look forward to without your friends or family?”