How the state is trying to tackle growing social isolation of seniors in nursing homes amid pandemic

Connecticut

Conn. (WTNH) — The number of COVID-19 patients in Connecticut nursing homes has more than doubled since the start of the month. Now, the state is trying to tackle growing social isolation among seniors living in these facilities even as it tries to protect them.

Virus cases in those facilities continue to trend upward. At least 35 patients have died in long-term care facilities since the first week of November alone.

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The uptick in cases comes as concern continues to mount over the social isolation many families say their loved ones are experiencing–having been cut off from regular in-person visits for the better part of 8 months, and now, for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has traumatized our family,” said advocate Liz Stern, whose mother died inside a nursing home on Election Day.

Her father, who is at a separate facility, had not seen his wife throughout the pandemic.

“My father is not accepting the death of my mother,” said Stern.

Stern has been a vocal advocate of allowing more family contact with nursing home residents, which is a difficult balance for providers who are desperately trying to avoid a repeat of a disastrous spring that saw the majority of state COVID deaths occur in long-term care facilities.

A new bipartisan working group is now tackling how to prevent social isolation and promote mental health among nursing homes and assisted living residents–while maintaining best practices they hope will limit COVID spread during the state’s second wave.

A big focus? Technology that works for all seniors

“Individuals who have memory issues, or maybe issues with the ability to see the small camera or conceptualize their loved ones in there,” described state Long Term Care Ombudsman Mairead Painter.

Painter is working on innovative solutions to help seniors and their families connect over the holidays. One solution she is exploring is giving out handheld projectors that nursing homes can use for patients who have a hard time engaging with family members on small screens.

“They can use those to project lifesize on the wall and through the speakers,” said Painter, who says the projectors have been used for weddings and family gatherings already. She hopes they’ll help over the holidays, too.

Nursing homes can request those projectors through her office. 

The ultimate goal of the working group is to eventually form their findings into a proposal for new legislation.

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