As 2020 comes to an end, we are faced with a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic—the gift that keeps giving—along with exciting news of the release of a vaccine.
After a devastating year of losses in skilled nursing facilities, the vaccine will first be offered to healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care (LTC) facilities. A big win for the LTC industry.
On Monday, Dec. 14, the COVID death toll in America topped 300,000, but the first vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech were administered.
Unfortunately, this good news doesn’t assuage our need to be conscientious this holiday season as residents of skilled nursing facilities (SNF) are just beginning to get immunized.
“Extra precautions taken now will help to ensure that our loved ones stay healthy and safe for the short amount of time remaining until a safe and effective vaccine becomes available,” states a recent press release from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “Leaving the nursing home could increase a resident’s risk for exposure to COVID-19. The risk may be further increased by factors such as a resident’s health status, the level of COVID-19 in the community (e.g., cases or positivity rate), or attendance at large gatherings. Residents are encouraged to discuss these and other risks with their family and nursing home staff. Nursing homes should educate residents and families of the risks of leaving the facility, the steps they should take to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, and encourage residents can stay connected with loved ones through alternative means of communication, such as phone and video communication.”
Per the CMS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gathering during the upcoming holidays can increase the chance of spreading the virus. The danger is compounded when the holidays converge on our human desire to want to connect with loved ones, including the vulnerable population that lives in skilled nursing facilities. The CDC provides guidelines for SNFs on pandemic best practices and visitation measures, so it’s best to check with your facility to see what is or is not allowed. In general, however, staying away from high-risk family members, especially during peaks in COVID cases, is still recommended.
So how do we prevent the spread and still connect with our loved ones living in SNFs this holiday season? Below are ways to help those living in SNFs feel connected and loved at a distance.
Ways to Stay Connected During a COVID Holiday
Remember that old phone tree—the analog way for quickly announcing news throughout a community? The concept can work today, too. Make a schedule of family members to call a loved one on a specific day. A regular phone call can make isolated seniors feel extra special and give them something to look forward to.
There are plenty of ways to virtually connect now, from easy-to-use apps like FaceTime to Google Hangouts. Care teams are now very versed in teaching seniors how to use this technology. Oftentimes, facilities even have tablets to use for easier usability and better viewing. The phone tree concept works virtually, too, if your loved one has access to a smartphone, computer, or tablet. Just give them a ring, and make their day.
Mail is the classic way to inspire a smile. Often underused in this digital era, it still remains a great way to make people feel special. Gather the immediate family together (bonus activity for them), and make special cards for your loved one in a SNF. Personalize one card or many. Send them over a couple weeks or all at once. Even if just for a few minutes, the recipient will forget about the isolation and enjoy the connection.
Deliver a Care Package
Depending on where your loved one lives in proximity to you, you could ship a care package, deliver a basket or container, or sign them up for a care package subscription. Gifts ideas could include: activities like puzzles, cards, audiobooks, crossword puzzles; foods or treats like fruit baskets, specialty teas, candy, snacks; personal care items like toiletries, foot scrubs, lotion; and comfort items like blankets, socks, slippers. Add a special touch, and personalize it with special cards and box decor.
Drive bys have become very popular during the pandemic. Some facilities have adapted that idea to offer window visits. Families can visit loved ones through the facility’s main floor glass windows. They can talk, share smiles, and “touch” their loved ones through the glass. On special occasions, bring a sign or two, dress up, or even share some festive music. Get creative, and your loved ones will appreciate it.
Though SNFs have limited visitation due to the pandemic, it shouldn’t stop you from connecting with loved ones. There are still many ways to show those you love that you care. Contact the facility administrator to ask about ways their staff can support virtual visits, window visits, and how they facilitate mail delivery.
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