Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2021 / 15:00 pm
The U.S. must consider increasing nursing home visitation during the pandemic, one advocate for elder care told CNA.
“It’s necessary to open the doors again, and end the isolation of the elderly,” said Jim Towey, founder and CEO of the group Aging with Dignity, which advocates for care of the elderly. Towey was formerly legal counsel to Mother Teresa, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, and president of St. Vincent’s College and of Ave Maria University.
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have seen high death rates from the coronavirus pandemic, and thus have had strict visitation policies. Towey said that as a result, many elderly persons have been cut off from human contact and from the physical presence of their loved ones for nearly a year—with devastating consequences.
“I think what’s going to emerge in the next six months is the awareness that COVID was as much a mental health crisis as an infectious disease crisis,” Towey told CNA in a Feb. 17 interview. “And this is going to be true at every level of society, from school kids that are failing to thrive to seniors who have been traumatized by their isolation.”
While many might see mass vaccination as heralding a return to normal life in the coming months, he said, hospitals and long-term care facilities have not yet changed their “lockdown practices” despite COVID vaccinations beginning in December.
Kaiser Health News has reported that weekly new deaths among nursing home residents had sharply declined by 66% since COVID-19 vaccinations began in December. Yet many facilities, Kaiser reported on Thursday, are still not open to visitation, or have strict visitation policies.
Federal guidance acknowledges the difficulties faced by residents without visitors, and lists precautions that facilities could take to accommodate visitors safely. After Towey spoke with CNA on Feb. 17, multiple states announced a relaxation of their nursing home visitation policies.
Yet public health regulations have prized physical safety over mental health without full regard to the consequences, Towey said.
“I feel like the public health concerns failed to weigh the destructive effect these lockdown practices of nursing homes and hospitals have had on human beings and their emotional needs,” Towey said of the isolation felt by many nursing home residents during the pandemic.