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As nursing homes limit access, families communicate digitally with loved ones

Nursing homes across the North Fork have closed their doors to visitors and are switching to digital forms of communication as the number of COVID-19 cases grows in Suffolk County. 

To further prevent the spread of the virus, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced early Friday that only medical related visits would be allowed at nursing homes. 

The state has also asked these facilities to set up Skype accounts with residents and other online communication capacity so families can see their loved ones digitally.

Acadia Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Riverhead posted a message on its website Monday restricting non-medical visitation.

“It’s understandable,” Acadia administrator Mary Ann Mangels said. “It’s just because it’s such a high-risk group of people and we need to take as many measures as we can to protect them.”

Last Saturday, Ms. Mangels and director of nursing Daniel Mazzone discussed what the nursing home would do as the virus began to spread nationally, Ms. Mangel said.

By Sunday, one case had been confirmed in Suffolk County, prompting them to halt all visitations.

Under certain circumstances — including if a resident is being prepared for discharge or a resident is terminally ill — family members can enter the facility but are restricted to the lobby, must wear a surgical mask, and cannot interact with other senior residents. 

The “overwhelming majority” of families were supportive of the regulation, Ms. Mangels said, and have been communicating with residents over the phone.

“Certainty, in our profession, we are very understanding of how important this is. You have to weigh the safety at this point and try to protect residents the best we can,” Ms. Mangels said.

In Washington State, 22 people died at Life Care Center of Kirkland, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility, and the virus has taken root in other neighboring facilities in the Seattle area.

Locally, San Simeon by the Sound Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation has also taken precautionary measures and temporarily suspended all visitors from entering the facility, according to an online statement. 

The same is true for Peconic Landing, a lifecare and retirement community that’s home to over 450 residents aged 62 and older in Greenport. 

On Thursday, a second and third employee Peconic Landing tested positive for COVID-19. The company released a statement Friday stating it had not been notified of any additional confirmed cases.

Jessica and James Shreeve of Nashville both have parents, ages 96 and 98, that reside at Peconic Landing. They have been communicating with family via phone and FaceTime since in-person visitation is restricted.

“Obviously we are concerned,” Ms. Shreeve said in a phone interview Thursday morning, before information was released on the two additional employees having the virus. “But we feel [Peconic Landing] has been very upfront with us.”

According to data from more than 72,000 case records published in February by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, older people had a much higher rate of mortality from COVID-19. Nearly 15% of patients aged 80 and over and 8% of patients aged 70-79 died from the virus.

Despite a rather daunting situation, Ms. Shreeve said their parents are doing great and trying to stay positive. “They’re incredible troopers and have very positive attitudes about everything,” she said.

For James’ father, who is a member of several clubs including the ukulele and current events club — boredom is imminent.

“He’s used to a very active daily schedule. He’s going to get bored, that’s for sure, but bored is better than sick.” 

At a press conference Friday, Mr. Cuomo said the state will require health screenings for all nursing home workers each day when they enter a facility and require them to wear surgical masks to guard against any potential asymptomatic spread.

Ms. Mangels said Arcadia is awaiting further information from the New York State Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding employee protocols.

“That’s our primary goal — to keep our residents safe,” Ms. Mangels said.

San Simeon by the Sound Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation executive vice president and administrator Steven Smyth was not available for comment Friday.