There isn’t a question about why loved ones aren’t able to see their family members who are in either a nursing home or hospital right now, but it doesn’t make the struggle any less for families who have had to show support through just a phone call.
With rising COVID-19 cases in the area, stricter regulations are put in place, especially for vulnerable places like hospitals and other care facilities. With the increased cases and guidance from the Orange County Commissioner of Health, visitation at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities and hospitals has been suspended on October 15 and until further notice. The only exceptions to the limited visitation are if someone is at the end of their life, a child is born, for pediatric patients and people with developmental disabilities who require a chaperone. In these cases, only one individual is able to visit.
In the same public health alert, it was stated that any residents exposed to COVID-19 must be isolated. If a resident leaves the facility for any reason, they must quarantine for 14 days upon returning and test negative for COVID before returning to the general population.
Orange County has begun to see an increase in the number of COVID cases since October, which called for the increased restrictions. For one Newburgh resident, Gaylord Geter, he has had to assist his aunt, Linda McDonald, who has been back and forth between St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital and Beacon’s Wingate, a skilled nursing facility, while having no in-person contact.
With the holiday season here, it has been extra difficult for loved ones who have had to leave their loved ones alone in a facility. But for Geter, he is preparing for another celebration – his aunt’s 50th birthday – which he hopes to make extra special, despite not being able to see her.
While limiting visitation is necessary at this time, Geter has been navigating how to make his aunt feel loved, cared for and to remind her she’s not alone. McDonald has been in and out of the hospital for a few years because she is diabetic, though it has never been an experience like this one.
“I couldn’t see her and we even thought we were going to lose her a few times,” said Geter. “With COVID, it was hard to get in contact with the doctor.”
With McDonald not having a cell phone for a period of time, her family struggled to get in contact with her to check in. Geter recalled long phone calls on hold and not knowing the status of his aunt for longer than he’d like.
“We wouldn’t hear from her for days at a time,” said Geter. “It’s a scary feeling to not be able to hear from someone you love.”
“We’re trying to do what we can out here without not actually seeing her,” said Geter. “Hoping she’s being treated right, getting the stuff we’re sending to her – overall just giving her the strength to be okay.”
Though, there were nurses and healthcare workers who have helped go above and beyond where they can. One worker was able to situate video calls between Geter and his aunt, which was one of the only ways to be able to see her. McDonald said that her nurses have been supportive and have given her companionship and encouragement when she was in need.
“Talking to her she said she felt so alone and that she thought about giving up,” said Geter. “The fact that no one is able to see her as made it so much worse.”
“I know I can talk to them on the phone,” said McDonald. “But it’s still not like being with them and seeing their faces and being able to hug them … one hug can make a difference.”
Unfortunately, there is no clear solution at this time. Family members and loved ones who are in similar situations as Geter have resources like video and phone calls, but other than that, there isn’t much that can be done while helping stop the spread of the virus.
“People don’t understand what the people that are in the facility are going through,” said McDonald. “A lot of people say they understand, but they don’t. I don’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
For now, Geter plans to send balloons, a cake and presents to his aunt to make her 50th birthday extra special, despite not being able to have contact. McDonald, on the other hand, is doing anything she can do to plan and order presents for her grandchildren this holiday season.