Families cope with not seeing relatives in nursing homes due to COVID-19

Published: Mar. 17, 2020 at 6:33 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Many elderly people are housed in nursing facilities and many can no longer see their relative’s face to face because of COVID-19.

Nursing facilities have either suspended or shortened visiting hours because the senior population is vulnerable to the coronavirus. Families understand the rule, but say it’s tough.

Jerri Haigler’s 86-year-old mother is in a local facility. She describes her emotion when she found out about the new visitation rule.

“My heart sank,” Haigler said, “Because I was thinking about how will we continue to stay in touch - how will we assure her that everything is OK - how will we deal with the evenings that tend to be rough for her?”

Haigler and her family have gone from seeing their mother, who is a great-grandmother, almost everyday to not at all.

“It was between my sister and I every night,” Haigler said. “Just because of some of the progression of dementia and wanting to be there to keep her calm and peaceful.”

The separation has caused Haigler some restless nights. Her family had to get creative to show their mother they have not forgotten her. They are calling frequently and talking to her by phone and coming to the facility to do their mother’s laundry. When they return with the clean laundry Haigler includes a care package filled with notes, flowers, and goodies.

“It is very difficult to not be able to visit our loved ones,” Haigler said. “And to be there with them - because they depend on that interaction and time with their family.”

Sometimes the care packages also include food for the medical workers who are taking care of Haigler’s mother.

“Thankful for staff,” Haigler said. “Thankful for telephones - thankful for technology - it’s not the same but these are times we have to do things differently.”

Haigler posted her emotions on Facebook. Many people reached out to her telling her she is not alone. She would love suggestions from other people on how they are coping.

Many people are dealing with the same type of separation. This has Haigler asking others to think about and not forget the older generation who are left alone.

“If there is a senior adult that lives near you or in your neighborhood... senior adults that are part of your houses of worship, senior adults you have worked with or retired now - reach out," Haigler said. "A phone call means a great deal. Going to the grocery store for them and leaving it on their porch - sending them a card in the mail - those are some of the ways we can still stay in touch with people who are really very vulnerable right now.”

During this tough time - there are lessons the Haigler family has learned.

“Because we are a family of faith,” Haigler said. “We have learned we have to depend and trust - we knew that before and we are grasping at that even more now. We’ve learned that distancing is hard, but it has to be for the interest and the safety of those we love. And we learned maybe it’s time for us to slow down a little bit and be still.”

The daughter believes because of her mother’s dementia, she is not aware of time and hopefully she will not focus on how long it has been since her family visited her. This is what she tells her mother the reason why she can’t see her at the facility.

“What I’ve been saying,” Haigler said. “There are a lot of germs out there and so where you live they’ve closed to visitors and family members for right now, but we are going to love you through the telephone...She asked me the other day, when are these germs going to go away.”

Haigler hopes those germs will go away soon so she can be reunited with her mother once again.

“She means a great deal to us,” Haigler said. “And has been a wonderful mother.”

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