Finally, easing on visits to loved ones in retirement homes

My friend’s husband, who has dementia, has been in a memory care facility for several months. She’s been writing a blog, anonymously, for a couple of years (“The Remembery Chronicles”), so I’ve been observing the experience at close range.

It’s heartbreaking every day.

He has ups and downs, but the direction is mostly down. There seems to be a pattern: every time his mental awareness declines a little bit, his physical abilities decline also. It’s a vicious cycle.

He is losing control of simple actions like lifting a spoon or fork to his mouth, maybe because he may not be aware at a particular moment that there’s any reason to do it. He has a problem with balance and he might be able to walk with a walker, but has fallen a few times so he’s in a wheelchair. The part of the mind that is kept active by the simple act of walking is not being used.

He’s not talking much, either, and that may be at least partly because his family has only been allowed to visit him through a window. This facility, like most other long term care homes in the state, has been completely free of COVID 19, but at great personal cost to the residents and their families. According to my friend, the nursing staff are heroic in their efforts to keep the residents upbeat and stimulated, but it’s still not the same.

So the news that in-person family visiting to nursing homes will be allowed for more than half the counties in New Mexico is big news for the affected families.

The new rules are still restrictive. Visits will be allowed only in facilities that have no cases, and the visiting family member must be healthy.

Visits, preferably outdoors, must be scheduled by appointment. Residents and visitors will be separated by Plexiglas shields. They must be 6 feet apart, or 12 feet if one of them is unable to wear a mask. The rule specifies one visit per month, which to me still doesn’t sound like nearly enough, but maybe it’s as much as the facilities can handle.

The decision regarding which counties qualify for the more lenient rules was based on virus transmission rates. Qualifying were counties with less than 5% test positivity and fewer than 10 average daily cases per 100,000 residents. The list of eligible counties may change as the case results and percentages change.

As of the announcement date, De Baca remained the only county with zero reported cases.  Several counties were close to zero: Guadalupe, Harding, Hidalgo, Los Alamos, Quay, Socorro and Torrance.

Other counties eligible for these visits included Bernalillo, Colfax, Grant, McKinley, Sandoval, Santa Fe, San Juan, San Miguel, Taos and Valencia. That includes northwestern New Mexico counties that were hard-hit a few weeks ago and that have observed strict lockdown procedures.

The original list does not include Chavez, Cibola, Curry, Doña Ana, Eddy, or Lea. The main cities in those counties are Roswell, Grants, Clovis, Las Cruces, Carlsbad, and Hobbs.

It is frustrating that residents of some parts of New Mexico, notably the southeast, seem to think their region is somehow different so that they can make up their own rules about protecting each other from the virus. It’s especially disappointing since their numbers were so low earlier in this pandemic and recently are rising.

Southeastern New Mexico certainly has its own character and culture. So does every other region. Southeastern New Mexico is no more unique than – for example — the Navajo communities of the Northwest that are beginning to get the virus under control. The way the virus spreads, and public health rules for how to control it, are the same everywhere.

Maybe the thought of being able to visit their isolated loved ones will be an incentive for some southeasterners to get that message.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2020

 

 

 

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