Jewish HomeLife Visitation: Look, but Don’t Touch

Jewish HomeLife Visitation: Look, but Don’t Touch

Relatives are relieved to see their loved ones, but the COVID-19 restrictions have taken an emotional and physical toll.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Berman Commons Assisted Living and Memory Care
Berman Commons Assisted Living and Memory Care

Family members are again able to visit relatives at the Berman Commons assisted-living residence – but no hugs or kisses, please.

In late June, Jewish HomeLife resumed what it calls “in-person compassionate care visits” at Berman Commons, as well as The Cohen Home and The William Breman Jewish Home, more than three months after they were suspended as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Visitors were barred when Berman Commons was hit with a rash of positive COVID-19 tests among residents of its memory care unit and several staff members. Communal activities, including meals, remain suspended. Gov. Brian Kemp has extended until Aug. 12 a shelter-in-place order that covers residents of nursing homes, long-term care facilities, including assisted living communities, and inpatient hospice.

“Now that visitation has opened up, family members have been able to see the changes that a four-month absence has revealed, and they’re relieved, yet sad,” said Deborah Zisholtz, the director of Aviv Older Adult Services at Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta.

The rules for visiting are strict, which is fine with Elana Bekerman Frank, whose 84-year-old grandmother Rose Sowadsky moved into Berman Commons in January. Frank, founder of the Jewish Fertility Foundation, is busy with work and three young children, but said Sowadsky pretty much has been confined to her apartment. They talk on the phone often, and Frank could stand outside and see her grandmother through a window.

Frank now has visited her “Nana” twice, each time bringing one of her children. For all of the hardships caused by suspending visits, Frank appreciates the efforts of Berman Commons’ management. “They’re doing everything, in my opinion, to the best of their ability and the knowledge that we have today,” she said.

“You can’t kiss. You can’t hug. You’re talking in a mask,” Frank said. “It’s annoying for her, but I’m very appreciative of their diligence. They’re allowing her this but they’re also very carefully monitoring the situation.”

Chief among the rules is: “Maintain appropriate social distancing (6 feet) during the visit. For the protection of all, no hugging, kissing, holding hands, or other personal contact is permitted.” Visits are held outdoors and must be scheduled at least a day in advance for 30-minute slots on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

No more than two people are allowed per visit, including children. Pets are not permitted. All furniture used is cleaned before the next visitation time slot.

Photo provided by Ronni Beker // Ronni Beker was relieved to visit with her mother Dorothy Trotz for the first time since March. “Not that I like it, but I certainly understand why they have the rules,” she said.

On arrival, visitors have their temperature checked. They don’t go into the building, but around to a side entrance, where a staffer checks the sticker they’ve been given on arrival. Resident and guest sit on separate benches, facing each other and socially distanced. The staff keeps watch to make sure that resident and visitor keep their masks in place.

Despite the restrictions, Ronni Beker was relieved to see her 86-year-old mother Dorothy Trotz in person for the first time since March. “It was good to get there and spend 30 minutes with her. I really feel like they took every precaution they could take,” Beker said.

Shari Bayer, spokeswoman for Jewish HomeLife, said that the agency appreciates the understanding of families as they resume visits while caring for residents.

“She looks good. She sounds good. She’s a very upbeat person, regardless. She’s very positive. She’s trying to make the best of the situation. I think she wishes it were different, but she understands,” Beker said.

As for the rules, “I understand why they’re like that. It just has to be. Not that I like it, but I certainly understand why they have the rules,” Beker said.

The COVID-19 precautions at senior residential facilities have prompted concerns about physical health. “From families we’re serving, they say over and over that in their loved ones who have dementia, the decline they’re witnessing — or not exactly witnessing, because their interaction has been from afar — is impressive.

Even in more robust elders, many families say they’re seeing signs that physical distancing is taking its toll,” said Deborah Zisholtz, the director of Aviv Older Adult Services at Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta.

The separation has an emotional component, as well. “Family members are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety due to not being able to be with their loved ones that live in community settings such as independent living communities, assisted living/memory care communities, skilled nursing facilities, and various medical and hospital settings. Family members have expressed feeling guilt they cannot be with their loved ones that they know are struggling with social distancing/isolation protocols,” Zisholtz said.

Photo provided by Elana Beckerman Frank // On Mother’s Day, Elana Bekerman Frank and her 15-month-old son Matan were able to see Rose Sowadsky only by standing outside a window at Berman Commons. Now they can visit in person.

“Now that visitation has opened up, family members have been able to see the changes that a four-month absence has revealed, and they’re relieved, yet sad. Generally, they’re very excited to be able to ‘lay eyes’ on their loved ones. Additionally, we serve a number of people who have been unable to visit and still choose not to visit, because they’re in an increased risk group or are protecting others who have higher risk, if they become ill, and they’re feeling a sense of disappointment and sadness about that,” she said.

The visits at Berman Commons have continued, even though five staff members recently tested positive for COVID-19, though all were asymptomatic. “All are isolating at home until they are cleared for work through retesting. Their absence does not impact our staffing levels,” Cheryl Chambers, Berman Commons executive director, said in a July 16 email to residents and families.

As of July 16, there were no positive cases among residents. Berman Commons has a 32-unit memory care unit and 58 assisted living apartments.

JHL spokeswoman Shari Bayer said, “It takes a tremendous effort for the staff to monitor and coordinate these visits while still providing care to all the other residents. Families are so eager to see their own loved ones, and coordinating with 80-plus families takes time. We appreciate our families being so understanding.”

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