Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Nursing homes are filled with sadness and loss during pandemic shut down

Faye Seal at her nursing home. Photo courtesy of Douglas Seal.

Following a debilitating stroke that wiped most of her memory making it unsafe for her to live alone, Faye Seal was placed into a nursing home in 2019. 

Many see nursing facilities as a last resort for their loved one’s safety. And while nursing homes have statistically been found to shorten resident’s lifespans, they act as a safe haven from the dangers seniors may face living on their own.

But nursing homes have become ground zero for the COVID-19 pandemic in America, with more than 40% of COVID-related deaths connected to nursing care staff and residents.

“When COVID broke out, you know that was pretty much the beginning of the end for her,” said Douglas Seal, her youngest son. 

Experts attribute this to residents having weakened immune systems and many underlying health conditions. Which are then compromised by close interactions between staff members and outside visitors who bring the virus into the facilities. 

Protective measures in nursing homes have been implemented to protect residents from exposure between each other and non-essential staff, including physical therapists and those who lead recreational activities. 

Unfortunately, the very guidelines that have been put in place to protect the most vulnerable have backfired, causing significant mental and physical declines.

As a result of minimal manpower and staff being stretched thin, residents have been isolated to their rooms with little to no interaction, prompting new health concerns. 

“It’s really hard for the residents,” said Aleida Alonso, the Community Director of Wellness Care Center in Ojai, California. “Especially the ones that are aware, and even the ones that are not aware. It’s hard because they don’t have the human touch and their loved ones’ love.” 

The isolation caused Faye to decline mentally, and she hardly recognized Seal when he visited.  And a lack of physical therapy and being restricted to her bed caused her to develop bedsores. 

She is remembered by Seal as a strong woman who had still been mowing the grass and hauling debris on her 15-acre plot of land in Mississippi, even after two heart attacks and two bypass surgeries.

The maintenance of the property was slowly killing her. But with the passing of her eldest son in 2005 and her husband in 2007, both on the grounds of the house, she felt too strong of an emotional attachment to leave. 

After her stroke she no longer was able to remember the worries that had once plagued her mind, Faye was finally at peace. 

“It was a blessing in disguise that she had this stroke,” said Seal. “She didn’t remember anything, but she didn’t worry about anything. She was happy, she was content.”

Faye passed away in May from heart disease. But due to COVID restrictions, Seal was unable to be with her during her final days.

“It was tough because you can’t go see them. That was a loss, you know just not being able to say goodbye,” said Seal. 

Just as people are passing alone in hospitals, so are those on hospice care.

This has been the sad reality for many with loved ones who have passed during high spikes in COVID cases. 

Yet, as cases began to lower during the mid-summer months, families were slowly allowed to make in-person visits. Albeit, they were then reduced to visits with glass and fence barriers still separating them from their loved one’s touch. 

“It felt like I was visiting animals in a zoo,” said Emili Gross, whose parents both reside in a memory care facility in Arizona. “It was weird. We were just looking at each other.”  

Herb and Arlene Rubinowitz in their nursing home waving on the other side of a glass window to daughter Emili Gross. Photo courtesy of Emily Gross

With the number of COVID cases now surging throughout the country, many nursing homes have had to once again shut their doors to in-person visits and limit contact between the staff and residents.
“We do our best as caregivers, but it’s not the same,” said Alonso. 

Wellness Care Center  had to significantly shift its routines for all. When residents were isolated, staff put radios inside their rooms to play familiar tunes. They also put on puppet shows to increase distanced interaction. 

A husband visits his wife through the bars of the Wellness Care Center in Fairfield, California.Photo Courtesy of Aleida Alonso.

“We just have to do what we have to do in order to keep things as safe as possible,” said George Paniagua, a medication technician at Wellness Care Center.

Many care facilities have supplemented in-person visits with video chats. However, with limited iPads and other technological resources, it makes it much harder to schedule virtual visits. 

And many residents, especially those far progressed in their disease, find their attention spans tested tremendously. 

The numerous challenges presented by these restrictions have forced families and staff to adjust and reconcile with the sacrifices. 

“It was tough, it was different. I never thought I was going to go through something like this. It’s always a learning experience. You just learn and get ready for whatever might happen,” said Paniagua.

He explained that although most of the residents do not understand what is going on, those who are high functioning have been fearful and questioned why the staff has been wearing facemasks. They were scared it was something really serious. 

“I was scared, everyone was scared, but we knew we had to be calm in order for our residents to be at peace and calm,” said Paniagua.

And as the pandemic rages on, staff and family have had to accept things as they come to find comfort in a horrible situation. 

While Gross is still limited to visiting her parents through glass barriers, she has found herself questioning the future of her parents and whether a future still remains. 

“It hit me a little harder just because I’m like is this how we’re going to end this?” said Gross. 

“They’re in their last chapter. Is this the last time I’m going to see them and how I’m going to see them?”

 


Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Life returns to the East Village

Quincy Walter May 5, 2021

Reopening for Ramadan

Hassan Abbas May 4, 2021

And the band played on

Xavier Bartaburu May 2, 2021

Queens residents mourn at Covid vigil

Annie Burky May 2, 2021

Floating for Free: COVID and the Staten Island Ferry

Trish Rooney May 2, 2021

COVID-19 has left many Black and Hispanic landlords in serious debt

Norah Hogan April 24, 2021

Village East movie theater reopens to the public

Inga Parkel April 13, 2021

Chinese adoptions halted by COVID

Inga Parkel March 24, 2021

Remote is the new workplace normal

Courtney Guarino March 24, 2021

One year of COVID-19 in New York City

Michelle Diaz March 16, 2021

COVID long haulers deal with lingering symptoms and doubt

Kaity Assaf March 5, 2021

Pandemic Weddings

Chuyan Jiang March 2, 2021

Pandemic fatigue 101

Chuyan Jiang February 28, 2021

Yankee Stadium becomes COVID-19 vaccine site for Bronx residents only

Michelle Diaz February 24, 2021

The queer community rallies behind their sacred spaces closed because of COVID-19

Inga Parkel February 23, 2021

Street vendors struggle as New Yorkers and tourists stay home

Norah Hogan February 13, 2021

Keeping the faith in COVID-19

Courtney Guarino February 3, 2021

Little Italy’s restaurants need indoor dining to survive pandemic

Michelle Diaz February 2, 2021

Stray pets find homes and love during pandemic

Inga Parkel February 1, 2021

No Actors, But the Show Goes On

James Pothen December 5, 2020

New York City, a place of refuge 

Edith Rousselot December 4, 2020

Commuting in a pandemic world

Michelle Diaz December 3, 2020

Battling food insecurities during a pandemic

Courtney Guarino December 3, 2020

Adaptation

Justin McGown December 3, 2020

Honk!: Cars earn a special spot in 2020

Luana Harumi December 3, 2020

Working out looks very different during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang December 2, 2020

One kitchen’s transformation in the age of isolation

Isabel Beer December 2, 2020

The show goes on

Norah Hogan December 1, 2020

Loyal members help keep independent cinemas afloat

Courtney Guarino December 1, 2020

Musicians deal with the reality of no live shows as covid takes center stage

Paola Michelle Ortiz December 1, 2020

 Black Friday’s Aftermath

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi November 30, 2020

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Small business owners hope for future relief

Courtney Guarino October 2, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020

Fort Greene’s Dino adds outdoor dining to keep business flowing

Courtney Guarino September 19, 2020