Senior care centers say their Auckland residents are isolated and alone as they head into their ninth week in lockdown.
It has prompted some in the industry to request booster shots for residents so they can see loved ones again.
The recent change in restrictions has allowed Auckland residents to meet up to 10 people outside of another bubble.
But there has been no such relief from the tedium of confinement for older New Zealanders in nursing homes.
Oceania Healthcare’s managing director of clinical and care services, Dr. Frances Hughes, said residents were struggling and needed to see some light at the end of the closing tunnel.
“People need hope and the safety of our people is broader now than physical safety. It is about the spiritual and psychological well-being of people and we take pride in Oceania for being compassionate and person-centered, not institutional.”
“Although we have had technology and our staff have maintained interactions and connections with loved ones, technology and staff cannot and should not replace the beloved connections of your family and close friends. We want to plan, we want to give people hope. and we want to make sure we are building resilience. “
As of this week, the only visitors allowed into nursing homes have been those with loved ones undergoing end-of-life care.
The criteria have now been adjusted to allow compassionate family visits, if a resident is confused, distraught, or if their mental health and well-being have deteriorated.
Dr. Hughes said it was a good start.
“I don’t want to see anxious people. I don’t want to see heartbroken people. We are working with our people. Even the compassionate opening of the little door that happened this week, with the definition expanded. The smile on people’s faces. It’s heartbreaking seeing people think that they can only speak through Zoom, that they can look at each other through a window. “
She believed that they could manage the risks posed by Covid-19 while still allowing family visits.
“We have very high vaccination rates of our residents and staff. We have good privately funded surveillance systems. We have very good CPI and we have risk assessments. What we know is that with all the protections, we have to be able to balance the risk versus the impact on our people.
“We know we can handle this, and we just need some capacity to get a clear strategy and plan so that we can make the transition.”
For David Parkinson and his whānau, blocking has been particularly difficult.
They have not been able to visit his elderly mother, whom he and his brothers used to visit three times a week.
He has advanced Alzheimer’s and things have recently deteriorated to the point where he is now receiving palliative care.
“Her condition is such that she’s not really communicative, so Zoom calls and that kind of thing doesn’t really work. When we go to visit her, she holds hands. It’s a more physical experience than verbal, so Zoom things They didn’t really work for us, and essentially the main contact was with the nurses. “
They were finally able to visit her last week after her condition worsened. As difficult as it has been, he supports the cautious approach that his elderly care provider has taken.
“It’s probably more difficult for us than it is for her. The care staff and the people who work there, especially in the dementia hospital wards, are just amazing, so I know they are taking care of her and taking care of her.
“From her perspective, she’s getting all the things she needs, but from our perspective, we’re probably missing out on giving her the love we wanted to give her.”
Ryman Healthcare has 26 villages in New Zealand, 11 of them in Auckland.
Chief Operating Officer Cheyne Chalmers said that while it had been tough on residents, it was still too risky to allow in-person visits.
“The really good thing is that they are not isolated in the elderly care centers, they are participating in their group activities in a big bubble. They can eat with their co-residents. They can participate in activities, and we have worked very hard to make sure that They have Zoom calls and catch up with their loved ones regularly.
“I keep insisting that care for the elderly are the most vulnerable people in society and we have to protect them. We are not ready yet. We are definitely not supporting that.”
He would like the government to introduce booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine for elderly care residents, and also provide rapid antigen testing to the sector.
“The resolution to this is going to increase vaccination rates. It is going to introduce tools like rapid antigen testing. We have been doing it in Australia to visit, so we have our villages in Victoria and we have been using rapid antigen testing to help visitors get inside.
“When you think about the fact that most of our residents were vaccinated early on, so they were in that first group to get vaccinated or in the second group … it will be important to consider a booster shot.”