The New York Times Company
STANWOOD, Wash. — At nursing homes where visitors are now barred because of the coronavirus, adult children talk to their parents through locked glass doors like jailhouse visitors. They worry it may be months before they can hug each other again. Some families are debating whether to move their frail loved ones home.
Thousands of nursing homes and assisted-living centers across the United States are becoming islands of isolation as public-health officials take unprecedented steps to lock them down to protect elderly and infirm residents from the extreme threat posed by the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, industry leaders recommended curtailing social visits at homes across the country, calling the challenge posed by the novel coronavirus “one of the most significant, if not the most significant” issues the industry has ever faced.
“The mortality rate is shocking,” said Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association. He said that the death rate might well exceed the 15% that has been reported in China for people aged 80 and older.
In Washington state, where five long-term care facilities have been hit with cases, including a facility in Kirkland, Washington, where 18 residents have died, families are getting increasingly desperate about how their loved ones’ physical and mental health as new cases are reported in facilities across Seattle.
“I’m concerned that the loneliness and helplessness will kill her quicker than the virus,” said Melissa West, whose 95-year-old mother-in-law lives in a nursing home in Seattle that is so far untouched by the coronavirus.
Some families have decided not to wait.
Veronique Littlefield said she and her family decided to move their 86-year-old mother home two weeks ago after she was potentially exposed to coronavirus at the Life Care Center of Kirkland.
The family set up a hospital bed downstairs, quarantined themselves from the outside world and became round-the-clock caregivers. None of them has developed any symptoms.
“She sacrificed so much to be the most loving and caring person we could ever know,” Littlefield said. “This is why we’re doing this for her.”
Officials said they are recommending that nursing home reception workers screen all visitors — family, staff, contractors and government workers — and that only essential visits be conducted.