Texas Hill Country News

They Are Prisoners: Loneliness in Nursing Homes During COVID

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Tony Maples Photography


Residents in nursing facilities are suffering due to a lack of socialization. Chastity Dillard, LVN in Kilgore, Texas, understands their anguish. She says, “Isolation and quarantine in senior living facilities is the new prison. Lawbreakers are incarcerated for a limited jail time. They know when their sentence ends and when they can rejoin society. Not so with elderly citizens living in nursing homes.”

Seniors in facilities haven’t enjoyed visits from their families since March, 2020. Because of age and vulnerability, the pandemic put these mature folks in a higher risk category for infection. In order to prevent the Covid-19 Virus from spreading, well-intentioned authorities issued isolation mandates to all eldercare residences across the United States.

Like all good ideas, this one seemed virtuous for a time, but months drag on, and the elders in these facilities are declining. Isolation and loneliness can kill as effectively as the Covid-19 virus.

They Are Prisoners: Loneliness in Nursing Homes During COVID

Photo: @shanti via Twenty20

Before the virus, institutions provided fun activities. Inhabitants ate meals together, and families were allowed to visit—even take loved ones out to restaurants. But March, 2020 brought a shutdown. Without warning, facilities required inhabitants to stay in rooms, and meals were brought to them. No communal dining, no stopping by each other’s rooms.

Other than staff, no one is allowed inside. Elders remain by themselves in a room with nothing to do but watch television. These citizens need people for mental well-being, but because they are isolated and can’t see friends and family, they deteriorate. Many elders don’t understand window visits. They ask, “if staff can come and go, why can’t you?”  It’s a good question.

Relatives agonize over a loved one’s care. “Are Mom’s clothes clean?” “Has her hair been washed?” “Did they change Dad’s bed linens? Is he eating?” Employees are overworked, and due to staff illnesses, or shortage of workers, needs can go unnoticed. Personnel are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place as they try to satisfy families as well as governing officials. Each state, based upon area Covid-19 statistics and governor mandates, add their own rules for homes and relatives.  No national, uniform policies exist.

They Are Prisoners: Loneliness in Nursing Homes During COVID

Photo: Courtesy Chastity Dillard

HHSC, an anacronym for Texas Health and Human Service, along with the CDC, set guidelines for senior living homes in Texas.

But across the nation, many people are pushing back, and Texas is no exception. Yellow signs are showing up in yards across the Lone Star State with the solemn message, “Isolation Kills.” The placards began from a Facebook page, the Texas Caregivers for Compromise. The goal is to get Governor Abbott and the HHSC to lift restrictions on senior living facilities.

The recent emergency rules released from Texas HHSC are overwhelming.  Before a nursing facility can lift restrictions, they must fill out paperwork and receive approval. If the nursing facility is approved, one family member, designated an essential caregiver, must test negative on a weekly basis and wear PPE for a brief visit. Social distancing is mandated, along with no hugging or touching. Due to the backup at the HHSC, delays are expected as each facility seeks approval.

In the meantime, senior citizens decline daily.