Friday, March 20, 2020

Coronavirus will change how we visit nursing homes and hospitals

I’m sure you saw the rather sad news reports of families peeking into windows and waving at their loved ones who were, for lack of a better word, imprisoned in their Washington nursing home in order to prevent the spread, to the outside world, of coronavirus which had sickened so many residents and workers at that facility, killing 22 in the process.

In a less tragic but still heartbreaking scale this is, in various ways, being played out in nursing homes and hospitals across the country. Almost all of those facilities have suspended resident or patient visitation. Millions of Americans have no means to be in the room with their aged and infirm family members.

It shouldn’t be this way.

But, then again, maybe it always should have been this way.

Especially in regard to hospitals, why have we, with few exceptions, allowed outsiders to come in to see the weak and the ill, potentially as vectors bringing outside viruses to those with compromised health? Or, on the flipside, why would we want to expose otherwise healthy outsiders to the bugs that the hospitalized might be fighting?

Both of those questions have come to the fore in this coronavirus crisis. We don’t want the disease to breach medical containment, on the in or the out.

It makes sense to do that. It’s likely a lesson learned that might redefine the nursing and healthcare experience as we’ve known it. Limitations will become the norm on the other side of this crisis – maybe nursing homes will screen all visitors and limit the number per day; perhaps hospitals will screen, too, while suspending visits under many if not most circumstances.

Despite all the logic in doing so, there are powerful emotional factors to contend with.

How do we not visit the people who helped raise us? How do we not be there for our loved ones fighting for their lives?

We want to be with them.

And, they want to be with us.

There’s something to be said about the positive effects on mental, and even physical, well-being when a day at the nursing home is brightened by seeing the kids or grandkids or when someone hooked up to various machines gets a pick-me-up from a friendly visit.

So, how do we go about addressing the emotional constraints of the coronavirus crisis while at the same time preparing ourselves for the culture change set to come from it?

That’s where modern technology comes in.

Websites and smartphone apps are plentiful that allow for face-to-face conversation – FaceTime; Google Duo; Skype. For many of us, it has become old hat; most Americans have the technological means to communicate that way.

But, those in a facility don’t.

When it comes to nursing homes, many of the residents don’t have the physical ability to manipulate keyboards or touchscreens or the mental ability to remember passwords, contact numbers and all that.

As for hospitals, many of those institutions won’t allow cellular technology in some locations and many of the patients might not be in the mood or ability to navigate technology on their own due to pain, pain killers or physical inability.   

So, the technology needs to be augmented with a little customer service and TLC.

We’re in a war against disease right now, so I know personnel, especially on the front lines, are spread thin but I encourage nursing homes and hospitals to make remote visitation a reality now and into the future. Equip a nurse or porter on each shift, on each floor with a tablet that he or she can use to host face-to-face conversations between patients and their loved ones.

In a world chock full of illness, fear and anxiety everyone will savor the joy to be had by grandparents and parents seeing grandchildren and children, husbands seeing wives, and brothers seeing sisters. It’s not the same as being in the room with them, but it’s a quantum leap beyond talking on the landline -- the loved ones can be seen, smiles and tears can be shared, and, communally as family, the much-needed hope for a better tomorrow for all can be had with that human experience. Those on the inside and those on the outside can raise each other’s spirits by letting everyone know – and showing them -- that everyone is still okay and holding up.   

In hindsight, this should have become the norm over the past few years as video conferencing and calling apps have become ubiquitous. But, it sometimes takes a crisis to make us think differently, act and have the foresight to change policies and procedures.

Hopefully this is one of this changes and soon. Remote visitation can be the present and it will be, for many, the future.

From the 23 March 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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