PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Many long-term care facilities across the state are in the process of reopening for visitors nearly seven months into the coronavirus pandemic.
However, there’s concern about the well-being of residents because of the reduced interactions with loved ones.
Michelle Algeri said she doesn’t want her mom, 85-year-old Marjorie, to “die alone.” Marjorie is at Southwestern HealthCare Center in West Mifflin, but she’s coming home to live with her daughter on Thursday.
“Loneliness is awful. It can take a life,” said Michelle.
This is something the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, an advocacy group for long-term care providers across the state, says needs to be addressed.
“We are now seeing the aftermath of what a lack of visitation, interaction and conversation has done to our most vulnerable residents. But providers have had to take the necessary steps to keep those very same residents safe from COVID-19,” said Zachary Shamberg, president and CEO of PHCA.
Shamberg said a lack of visitation was necessary when the pandemic hit in March. Now, as visitation restrictions are slowly starting to ease, Shamberg said more needs to be done to help residents battling isolation.
“We had almost weekly communication with the Department of Health back in May when the guidance was first released. We really did push away from the one-size-fits-all plan, and we asked for a more facility-specific plan. We worked with the state on compassionate care and the essential care program,” he said.
A bill introduced by Pennsylvania Senator Bob Mensch would allow at least one loved one to come into a facility to visit a resident. Right now, the state is allowing facilities to have a compassionate caregiver come in.
“The provider can determine what the right course of action is for that essential caregiver,” said Shamberg. “The compassionate caregiver program doesn’t give the provider that opportunity or responsibility. It’s problematic in case of an outbreak.”
Jennifer Polce and her father, Robert Polce, know all too well what Michelle Algeri is going through.
KDKA’S Amy Wadas interviewed them at the beginning of August, and since then, 91-year-old Rose, who lived at Masonic Village in Sewickley, has died. The family said she wasn’t eating and was suffering from loneliness.
“It was basically too late. She fell and slipped through the cracks,” said Robert.
Shamberg said the PHCA is continually pushing for more PPE and priority testing and is working with the state to ease visitation restrictions.