“It’s been a long year.” A look at life for nursing homes in the pandemic

It was this week in 2020 that nursing homes sprung to action against a spreading virus and began shutting their doors to visitors.
Nursing homes react to pandemic a year later.
Nursing homes react to pandemic a year later.
Published: Mar. 8, 2021 at 7:09 PM EST
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BANGOR/BREWER, Maine (WABI) - The year no one saw coming.

The week of March 8th, we’re taking a look back at what life has been like during the coronavirus pandemic and what the future holds.

In the beginning, each day was met with new regulations, personal protective equipment, and uncertainty about a virus that spreads like wildfire once it’s able to take hold.

Add on isolation from loved ones during a time of darkness - but now, could there be a light at the end of this socially distanced tunnel?

President of the Maine Health Care Association, Rick Erb, said, “This was a different ballgame and we found that out quite quickly.”

It was this week in 2020 that nursing homes sprung to action against a spreading virus and began shutting their doors to visitors.

“We’re learning tonight nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Maine are stepping up precautions in an effort to avoid what’s happening in the Pacific Northwest.”

“Most people were very positive about it because they realize that residence safety is number one. And that’s our responsibility to make sure that that happens.”

Last year, before anything happened, did you think that there would ever be a year like this last one”

Erb said, “We have nursing homes and assisted living administrators who had been in the business for 30 or 40 years, no one had ever seen anything like this So, no, we did not see this coming. It was a different experience than what we knew of from infection control, flu season, things like that. "

As President of the Maine Health Care Association, Rick Erb has had constant contact with staff throughout the state.

Erb explained, ”it’s been a very difficult year. You know, we’ve had to deal with grief and loss in the facilities, among staff members among other residents.”

Erb says despite the difficult days, he’s seen staff around the state step in to be there for isolated residents.

“The resilience of our staff, the steps that they have taken, the ones that volunteered to work in COVID units that took extra shifts when they really didn’t want to but they were needed, and people have stepped up. We’ve had staff members who filled in for family members because they couldn’t come in to see their loved ones. They provided things that they brought in themselves, to help cheer up residents and keep them strong. So I think there was an inner strength there that was more than we ever knew,” Erb stated.

Brewer Center for Health and Rehabilitation administrator, Jason Moore said,“It’s been a long year.” He explained, “It’s crazy how quickly things kind of become the new normal and almost what you’re used to, you know, it just seems like as much as it’s surprising that it’s been a year, thinking back to anything pre-COVID seems so much longer than that.”

A year that Moore says brought major change.

Moore said, “The way that I describe it to the staff is it’s like we went from television or radio. And what I mean by that is you know you have to say hello, you know people can’t see you smile anymore. You know you can’t just walk down the hall and smile at somebody you really need to stop and say hello how are you. How was your day because, you know, a lot of those things that we took for granted like smiles the simple things, we’re not able to utilize them the same way.”

A year of ups and downs for these facilities.

Erb stated, ”During the summer, we were able to use outdoor visitations and that helped improve people’s spirits and the number of cases dropped so things improved at that point. But then in late fall, there was a surge again and we had more cases than ever. So, that was discouraging.”

“Our last year especially has been dictated by nothing but, you know, safety,” Moore added. He said, “It’s so hard because it’s much safer to not do it. You know, we won’t regret not doing it but at the same time you know you do miss that that human piece of things, the engagement.”

But with fewer cases and thousands of residents and staff now fully vaccinated - there’s a ray of light flickering in the distance.

“I think there’s a lot of optimism. Having visitation start again here at the facility has been very good for everybody involved, families have been very gracious and very accepting been very accommodating, you know, and residents the same, but we’re really really looking forward to hopefully things becoming back to the old normal as opposed to the new normal,” Moore said.

That includes working to keep new residents and new staff vaccinated.

“We’re very proud of our members, and how they’ve dealt with this, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. And we’re just looking forward to the day when we can look back on COVID-19 and figure out what lessons to be learned from it and move ahead,” Moore explained.

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