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Florida Reopens Long Term Care Facilities to Visitors. Will It Be Safe?

Sundial Nursing Home Panel Conversation
WLRN Sundial's Panel Conversation about Elder Care during COVID-19. From left to right, Veronica Zaragovia WLRN Healthcare Reporter, Renee Garvin Executive Director at the Vi at Aventura, Peter and Veronica Fuchs residents at the Vi, Luis Hernandez WLRN Sundial host and Joan Hipler, registered nurse in Hollywood.

A panel conversation with the head of a retirement community, our healthcare reporter, a senior couple and a registered nurse who's mom is in an Assisted Living Facility about elder care during the pandemic.

On this Wednesday, Sept. 2, episode of Sundial:

Joan Hipler has been using Facetime to communicate with her mother every day. Hipler is a registered nurse and she used to visit her mother at the Five Star Premier Residences of Hollywood before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

“I promised my dad (who passed) that I would be there for her and that I would take care of her, until she met up with him. So I would go everyday,” she said in a previous interview with Sundial.

Visitations to long term care facilities have been banned since the middle of March, one of the first executive orders taken by Gov. Ron DeSantis as the pandemic began to spread in Florida.

But the governor announced Tuesday that visitors can begin to visit elder care facilities under very strict guidelines. Nursing homes, ALFs and retirement communities will need to have adequate personal protective equipment and regular testing of nursing home staff.

For Hipler, the new rules are life changing and she's looking forward to doing some of what she used to do when she would visit her mother.

“I would like to hold her hand. I would like to sing with her. She and I used to sing. I’d like to keep her stimulated because she’s had a whole lack of stimulation during this time,” Hipler said.

Florida’s elderly population living in long term care facilities have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Of the 11,501 residents who’ve died from this virus, 4,759 of those deaths have occurred within nursing homes — more than 40 percent of the deaths in the state.

Gov. DeSantis recognized the visitations will lead to an increase in cases but during a news conference in Jacksonville argued it’s worth it for these families to see their loved ones.

We focused Wednesday's entire program on the issue of elder care during COVID-19. WLRN’s health care reporter Verónica Zaragovia joined us as well as Joan Hipler, Renee Garvin, executive director at The Vi at Aventura Retirement Community, and Peter and Veronica Fuchs, two seniors living at The Vi.

The Fuchs host a Facebook Live everyday where they perform for others in the community.

Below are excerpts from the panel conversation.

WLRN: Veronica, help us understand what these new standards include?

ZARAGOVIA: There’s a list that includes for example, all guests and staff have to have PPE and masks have to be worn. There cannot be an onset of COVID-19 in the last 14 days, no new cases in the facility. And then if a staff member tests positive, then they have to cease visitations. They have to have adequate capacity at referral hospitals at the facility. For those reasons, it will take a few days for facilities to get ready.

There will also be a limitation on who can come in.

ZARAGOVIA: Every resident can choose up to five visitors who can come in and there can only be two at once. They can choose an essential caregiver. This is a person who can feed, or bath or change their relative or loved ones. That person can give a hug but nobody else can, everyone else would need to be socially distanced.

Renee, The Vi has approached this pandemic differently. Residents have been able to come and go. How have you ensured there’s no outbreaks and keep residents safe?

GARVIN: We have a full continuum of care. We have independent living, assisted living, memory support, skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Where our residents are able to come and go is in independent living. Residents aren’t able to leave when it comes to assisted living unless they have doctor’s appointments. We work really hard to make sure we are screening anyone coming into our community, we make sure to have gloves, masks and face shields.

We are going to continue to recommend outdoor visitors whenever possible because it is the safest. But we are also gearing up to support indoor visits as well but making sure we are meeting all those requirements. We are big on face shields here, we will probably offer face shields to visitors as well. We are going to look to make sure everyone coming into the community to spend that time with their loved one but make sure they’re doing it in a safe way.

Peter Fuchs, you are a musician. And you’re also a Holocaust survivor. You have a perspective that many of us don’t have. Everything you see our country going through now, what advice would you give to all of us?

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Peter Fuchs
Peter Fuchs performing as part on Facebook Live as part of the "Stump the Maestro" program. Everyday, Peter and his wife take requests from the Facebook audience to perform music.

PETER FUCHS: Well we should be handling it according to the golden rule. Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to yourself. And try to have a positive attitude towards life and try and enjoy everyday because its a gift. That’s my simple answer, the rest I say in music.

VERONICA FUCHS: Well this is actually a little bit like what happened in Europe. They couldn’t go out, they couldn’t communicate with everybody out there. It’s a similar thing, this is the invisible enemy. There was a real enemy in those days. So it’s kind of similar.

PETER FUCHS: She’s right. For the first time since I left Europe and left that whole life behind me, I felt like we are in a warlike situation. I feel it’s that serious. It’s stopped everything in America, it stopped life like we know it.

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.