Isolation during pandemic: Assisted living facilities weigh in on what’s being done to help, local woman shares her story

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – Tackling isolation and loneliness during this pandemic. That’s the challenge facing assisted living facilities in the upstate. In fact, DHEC told 7 News they’ve given dozens of grants to help connect residents with their loved ones.

A card worth far more than the words and stickers that rest on the envelope. They’re reminders of Mildred Shirley’s (Sally) favorite person.

“She has always taken care of me, she’s my mom,” said Vickie McKelvey.

Vickie McKelvey and her grandma have always been close. In fact, she calls her ‘ma’ because she raised her.

She use to visit her regularly at Valley Falls Terrace.

“Everyday when I got out of work, drove straight up there, stay with her until they get her supper,” McKelvey said.

But all of that has changed. She told us, she hasn’t been able to hold her ma’s hand or give her a hug since March 13th.

Her concern over her grandmother’s isolation is something being felt by families across the state. Claudia Wise with Manning Place has seen the physical isolation from family firsthand.

“It has been tough, we didn’t think it was going to last as long as it has,” said Community Relations Manager with Manning Place, Claudia Wise.

However, she told us they’ve been trying to keep residents connected with their families through virtual visits, even streaming graduation ceremonies for them. On top of that, she told us they have rolled out new activities to keep residents active and involved.

“I was able to set her up on one of the community computers and she was able to watch it on the big screen and it was just a very special moment,” Wise told us.

But McKelvey has concocted a plan of her own. She has created a Facebook group inspired by others, devoted to people in her shoes. It’s called, ‘South Carolina Caregivers for Compromise – because isolation kills too!’

“Other people feel the same way that you do and it’s okay,” McKelvey said.

It’s used as a way to support one another but also push for statewide restrictions to be modified, even if McKelvey said, that means meeting loved ones outside.

She already has plans for when that precious moment eventually does come.

“When I physically get to throw my arms around her, I won’t be able to contain it,” said McKelvey.

McKelvey told us she has reached out to state leaders including the governor’s office to see if anything can be done to modify the restrictions. As of right now, leaders with DHEC told 7 News they’re continuing to work closely with these facilities to make sure recommended procedures are in place.

Grants have been given to over 100 facilities across South Carolina. Leaders with DHEC told us the federal funding supports virtual communication devices for connecting nursing home residents with their loved ones. You can find additional information on that here: https://www.scdhec.gov/news-releases/dhec-promotes-covid-19-grant-opportunity-virtually-connecting-nursing-home-residents

You can also find DHEC information regarding visitor restrictions here: https://www.scdhec.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/DHEC_Guidance_on_Visitation_Restrictions.pdf

Additionally, the administrator with Valley Falls Terrace sent us the following information:

“First and foremost, we understand how difficult the last several months have been on our residents and families.  To protect the elderly and frail population we serve that is at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, we had to take the unprecedented steps of restricting all social visitation – something we would have never envisioned doing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

We recognize and understand the vital role visitation plays in our facility for our residents and families so we are making sure alternative methods of face-to-face communication are available for everyone as long as this restriction in place.  Specifically, our facility has procured iPads so residents and families can use FaceTime to see each other while they talk and we encourage our families to participate in “Window Visits” where they can go to their loved one’s window to see them and even decorate the windows.  We have also created a “visitor’s window” where families can sit outside and staff brings the resident to visit behind a plexiglass window that will keep the resident and family members protected during the visit.  While we understand this is not the same as sitting in your loved ones room or giving them a hug, this allows our residents and families to stay connected while protecting them from increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.

We are grateful for the patience and understanding of all involved as we work together to protect the health and safety of all our residents.  We look forward to the day when we can safely open our doors to our community again.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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