Residents inside Lenawee County’s assisted living facilities and nursing homes have been some of the most isolated people of the pandemic.
Facilities closed to all visitors last March in an effort to keep the most vulnerable safe. Residents spent much more time in their own rooms as socialization among other residents was curtailed as another precaution.
“It rocked their world,” said Amy Murphy director of Cambrian Senior Living in Tecumseh. “It did for everybody, but it really did for them.”
Daily and weekly activities at senior living facilities stopped. Residents ate most of their meals inside their rooms.
Residents at Lenawee Medical Care Facility in Adrian experienced depression, tearfulness and an overall decline in mental health.
“We’ve seen a lot of mental breakdowns,” said administrator Erin Tuckey.
The precautions do appear to have helped prevent the spread of the virus, despite their negative impact on residents.
Cambrian did not record a COVID-19 case until mid-October when it experienced its first and only outbreak. Murphy said the outbreak lasted through the end of December.
The assisted living facility has recorded 13 cases and two deaths, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Lenawee Medical was the first nursing home in the county to record a case COVID-19. There have been 16 cases and two deaths. The nursing home usually has between 95 and 100 residents and is the largest in the county.
Tuckey said the most severe outbreak was in July with some residents showing serious symptoms. There was a small outbreak around Christmas, but the director said symptoms were not severe.
The Associated Press reported in February that cases have dropped nationwide in nursing homes and fewer outbreaks are being reported as vaccinations ramp up.
Residents at local facilities were some of the first people in the county to receive the vaccine.
Vaccinations have resulted in another shot in the arm for nursing homes: relaxed visitor restrictions. Facilities started allowing family members and friends to visit residents this month.
The meetings are socially distanced and visitors must submit to a rapid-COVID-19 test.
“When the residents found out they were able to have visitors, it was like a weight had been lifted,” Murphy said. “The looks on their faces when they saw their visitors for the first time in a year, it melts your heart.”
Activities among residents have returned, too. Resident at Lenawee Medical sit in their doorways and play games, do crafts and listen to music with each other.
Happy hour, a fan favorite at Cambrian, has returned. The twice-weekly social event includes beer, wine, lemonade, food and good times among friends.
Staff at these facilities took on additional responsibilities in the past year, serving not only as caretakers, but as family and friends. They’re often the only people residents see on a daily basis.
Tuckey said there’s never downtime for staff. If there’s free time, it’s time to be spent with a resident. One-on-one visits have been important during the pandemic.
“We’ve definitely encouraged staff to spend a little extra time with them,” Tuckey said.
Staff are accountable to their residents. Since they’re the ones coming and going, they have to be extra careful and follow social distancing protocols when away from work.
“It’s been a lot for them,” Tuckey said. “They’ve been vital to keeping the rate down.”
Murphy credited her staff for being diligent in reporting symptoms.
“The staff was really resilient … and took infection control seriously,” she said.
There have been a total of 213 cases and 29 deaths inside Lenawee’s senior living facilities. Lynwood Manor Healthcare Center in Adrian has recorded the most cases with 66. The Oasis at Adrian Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center has recorded the most deaths with 12 and the second-most cases with 51, according to state statistics.
Ruth Ann Nortley was one of the dozens of residents who tested positive at Lynwood. Nortley said the facility had gone without a case for months before the virus “went through the building like wildfire.”
Nortley said she abruptly found out she tested positive and was moved to the COVID wing of the facility while eating breakfast one day. She said she would have appreciated some time to digest the positive test.
“I was kinda pissed,” Nortley said. “I was sitting eating breakfast and staff had boxes under their arms.”
Originally from Tecumseh, Nortley said the social isolation was “pure hell” but did help keep cases down. The most stressful part for residents, she said, was the constant moving due to positive cases. This led to confusion, especially among residents who had dementia.
Nortley said she experienced body aches and a fever of 102 degrees from COVID-19 but avoided more severe symptoms. She also contracted pneumonia while recovering from the virus.
“It was probably the worst part of COVID,” she said.
A call to Lynwood’s corporate management was not returned.
Residents and staff inside nursing homes and assisted living facilities weren’t completely alone during the pandemic. Community support saw organized, and sometimes surprise, drive-by parades, donations and other small gestures reminding those inside they weren’t forgotten.
Lenawee Medical residents were treated to a Mother’s Day parade and donations throughout the year. Cambrian residents received Christmas and Valentine’s Day cards from students.
Local woman Michelle Miller came up with the idea of Balloon Buddies, inflatable friends for residents at nursing homes sponsored by those in the community.
Bonnie Glisson, organizer of Backpacks for Children, donated gift bags to Lenawee Medical residents at Christmastime.
“It’s been nice to see how the community has come together,” Tuckey said. “They haven’t forgotten.”
About these stories
This week, The Daily Telegram is looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected life in Lenawee County during the past year. In the coming days, we will look at other aspects of life during the pandemic. We hope you will join us in this look at how Lenawee County has been affected by COVID-19.