DHEC Recognizes National Parents’ Day at Long-Term Care Facilities

DHEC Recognizes National Parents’ Day at Long-Term Care Facilities

Sunday, July 26, 2020, is National Parents’ Day and DHEC celebrates the wonderful relationships of families who have elderly parents residing in licensed long-term care facilities throughout South Carolina, including our 194 nursing homes and 497 assisted living facilities. This observance is a poignant tribute to the parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents residing at these facilities who are heavily affected by the pandemic. These residents are at high risk for contracting COVID-19 and therefore visitation restrictions are still in full effect for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, with the exception of end-of-life situations. These necessary infection control measures have hindered physical social visits from family members in a time where human connection matters more than ever.

A resident at Bishop Gadsden Health Care Center in Charleston, SC using a tablet to teleconference with her daughter and grandchildren.

“Nat Turner said it best when he said that good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity,” states JoMonica Taylor, Interim Section Manager for Residential Facilities Oversight in Healthcare Quality. “This is why DHEC works with facilities and the families of residents in making sure that we can all create innovative ways to let communication happen, like window visits and utilizing technology. As we navigate through our new norm, it is vital for all of the elderly parents in facilities to keep in contact with families in any way possible, especially since many of them might not fully be cognizant of the pandemic or why their families aren’t coming over anymore. Nothing can replace physical touch or presence, but picking up the phone or scheduling a closed window visit shows them that they have not been forgotten and that their families love them.  It gives them a ray of hope that better days are on the horizon.”

A resident at Brightwater Assisted Living in Myrtle Beach, SC having a closed window visit with her daughter, son-in-law, grandchild, and great-grandchild.

Having an elderly parent reside at a facility can be a daunting decision for any family to consider making, especially when responding to a public health threat of this magnitude. Arnold Alier, EMS Division Director in Healthcare Quality, knows this personally. “My father, up until last year, had lived in multiple nursing homes and assisted living facilities for about ten years,” said Arnold. “The experience has given me the opportunity to help other families going through the same process with a loved one, even now facing COVID-19 lockdowns and safety measures.”

Alier goes on to express how, “After taking care of Papi at home for three years, it reached the point where he needed around the clock oversight that I could not provide. It was an extremely difficult decision and there are no manuals or courses that can prepare you, so I empathize and know all too well how terrifying the decision is; how terrifying the unknown is when your sick parent is involved.” Luis Alfredo Alier, Sr., father of Arnold Alier, sadly passed away last year after a long battle with Lewy Body Dementia. Alier recalls several occasions where the long-term care facilities where his father was residing in would be on lockdown for several weeks at a time, either due to hurricanes or being at the height of flu season; lockdowns with physical restrictions similar to what many families are now facing with the ongoing state of emergency due to COVID-19.

Luis Alfredo Alier, Sr. and his son, Arnold Alier, at the Easley Retirement Center in Easley, SC.

Alier not only faced the challenge of not being able to physically visit his father when a facility was on lockdown, but he also could not make a phone call due to his father’s severe hearing problems. Video teleconferencing became Luis Alfredo, Sr.’s lifeline to his son. Arnold gives thanks and is indebted to the amazing nursing home and assisted living facility staff members throughout the years who worked with him in ensuring that he could always find some creative way to communicate with his father, working around his father’s disabilities instead of disregarding them. Seeing the face of a loved one, even if it’s simply through a tablet or computer screen, can be the different between loneliness and hopefulness. Alier had to watch his elderly parent go through a terrible battle with a relentless disease, and yet he knew that the love he carried for his father would always be evident no matter what medium he reached out to him through.

Amazing connections are formed between all families that have parents residing at these facilities. “I formed close ties with the relatives of other residents and Papi’s caregivers at these facilities,” states Alier. “We would even check in on each other’s parents as much as we could. The power of communication is incredible. In many ways, we all became a larger family. I saw how the staff would bring Papi a coffee and a banana, his favorite snack, whenever he was feeling down. How a Spanish-speaking staff member would always go out of there way to have genuine discussions with him in his native language. I remember all of it. Connections with elderly parents can happen and be maintained no matter what crazy circumstances are occurring. I’m so grateful that these facilities know that patient care goes beyond meeting a resident’s basic medical needs.”

A resident at Greer Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Greer, SC celebrates his 77th birthday with family members and his favorite frappuccino.

Facilities and families are coming together these days to not only create new ways that they can spend quality time with parents in the age of COVID, but also develop non-physical social gathering events that will further enrich their parents’ lives. South Atlantic Health Care’s Capstone Nursing Home in Easley, SC has integrated virtual games and stimulating group activities through the use of tablets in their social event calendar in order to ensure that residents can still chat and play with one another without having to constantly be in the same room.

The Place at Pepper Hill in Aiken, SC is an example of a nursing home that only has one closed window available for visits. Its staff have not only worked tirelessly to schedule appointments, but they have also designated it the “Family Connection Window” and have decorated it accordingly.  NHC Healthcare in Greenwood, SC gives family members the option to visit closed windows at their elderly parents’ room and use the front entrance of the nursing home, which contains a row of glass doors and windows, to conduct large closed window visits, as well. The nursing home even encourages residents to write loving messages to their loved ones on the outside glass of the entrance, as visible in the picture below. Little moments of joy and little flares of loveliness add up. The benefits that these visits are having is invaluable.

Residents at The Place at Pepper Hill in Aiken, SC speak to their children through the “Family Connection Window.”

The front entrance of NHC Healthcare in Greenwood, SC allows a resident to receive a large closed window visit from his children and grandchildren.

Shirley Klee, Activity Director at Brightwater Assisted Living in Myrtle Beach, SC, is overwhelmed with gratitude for the creative problem solving of her staff. “I am blessed to have a team of Life Enrichment Leaders that have really moved the needle keeping our residents and their loved ones connected,” states Shirley. “We have used Skype, Facetime, and closed window visits. We use them every day! We have been moved to tears many times watching these families connect and seeing their emotion. These are certainly difficult times, but we are grateful for technology. I just could not imagine such a time as this without the means to keep families together.”

A resident at Brightwater Assisted Living in Myrtle Beach, SC is visited by her daughter and sister.

Sarah Tipton, President and CEO of Bishop Gadsden Health Care Center in Charleston, SC, states that, “While residents and families may not be able to be physically together, it has been wonderful to be able to facilitate virtual connections. These visits have been so special, even emotional, for not only the family and residents, but for our team members as well. We very much feel like we are a part of the families’ lives and empathize with them in these challenging times.”

A resident at Bishop Gadsden Health Care Center in Charleston, SC video chats with her newborn great-grandchild that she has yet to meet.

We celebrate Parents’ Day by acknowledging how our own parents have impacted our lives and how vital communication is to a healthy life. DHEC continues to communicate with these nursing homes and assisted living facilities to ensure that infection control and prevention practices are being implemented correctly, but also that the quality of life for residents remains an ongoing discussion of significant importance.

While visitation remains restricted, DHEC is allowing nursing homes and assisted living facilities to choose to offer Closed Window Visits to residents and their loved ones. DHEC’s Closed Window Visit FAQs for Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities has more information for facilities, residents, and visitors to learn more about this opportunity.

DHEC also supports the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) COVID-19 Communicative Technology grant opportunity that provides federal funding so nursing homes can purchase virtual communication devices for their residents. More information regarding the COVID-19 grant opportunity for nursing homes is available here.

Families can find more information in DHEC’s FAQs for Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities and by visiting both of our COVID-19 Nursing Homes and Healthcare Facilities pages for current guidance, memos, and relevant publications.

A resident at NHC Healthcare in Greenwood, SC holds a picture frame showing her graduation photo from nursing school while receiving a closed window visit from her granddaughter, dressed in her cap and gown, on her very own graduation day.

Parents’ Day is a wonderful opportunity to schedule a closed window visit, teleconference, or phone call with a parent residing at a long-term care facility.

We celebrate the families determined to work with both loved ones and facilities in order to come up with creative solutions that keep parents connected with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We celebrate the facility staff that create ingenious forms of communication and engagement to keep families connected, and who recognize that treatment of care goes beyond the physical. We celebrate the strength and perseverance of the love between a parent and child, and how love can lead to invention.

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