Are You Essential?

Another month has passed, and it feels simultaneously like everything has changed and nothing at all. In the senior living world, we’ve received new guidelines to follow and are in the process of dissecting a complex, verbose, somewhat disheartening 41-page Executive Directive. It outlines what each stage of our phased-in approach to reopening will look like, as well as what parameters must be met in order to advance. At first glance, I was thrilled to see that indoor visits would again be permitted; as nice as the outdoor ones have been, they’re completely dependent on weather and it’s so hard for residents to hear their loved ones from 6ft apart and with all the background noise. As I read on, though, my excitement faded.

Indoor visits are to be limited to “essential caregivers”. In other words, there are very specific people who will be able to enter the community (and for very specific reasons). Each resident can have up to two adult ECs total, regardless of how big their family is. In order to be considered, one must apply and explain why they feel they are essential. Once accepted, they can visit up to twice a week for two hours per visit. Of course, they’ll have to be pre-scheduled, screened, COVID negative, and in full PPE.

So, what does it take to be considered essential? According to our governing body, an EC is someone who was “previously actively engaged with the resident or committed to providing assistance with activities of daily living”. Some examples provided by the DOH include a family member who visits twice a week to assist a resident with a shower, an individual who visits weekly to fill the resident’s pill box, and the like. Oh, you know, just the stuff they moved in with us to get help with in the first place. The things their family could no longer manage, hence them ending up in assisted living. Makes sense.

ECs can’t come just to hang, either; there must be an essential reason for the visit, which is forbidden from being social in nature. They have to be providing assistance with a task that they helped with prior to COVID, like cleaning hearing aids or shampooing the carpet. Changing sheets and cleaning out refrigerators count, too. Again, these are actual examples provided by the DOH.

You know what’s essential? Human touch. Hugging your family, including your great grandkids who are under 18 and can’t make the cut. Socializing with your friends is pretty important, too, while we’re at it. Sharing a meal together. Stepping foot outside of the same apartment you’ve been trapped in for 5½ months (without being told to turn around & go back). Having the right to choose which risks you’ll take. Living out the rest of your life with dignity and love, on your own terms. All essential. Not one on the list.

I feel more helpless now than I have this entire pandemic.

5 thoughts on “Are You Essential?

  1. I have no words, just a sad and concerned feeling about the control that is dominating. Where is the empathy and sincere regard for the residents? All people need socialization and interaction beyond meeting basic needs. This is heartbreaking to think that strict structure and rigid guidelines are being considered sbove and beyond the caring and love that the residents need to thrive and have even moments of real joy.

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  2. The ending paragraph before your last sentence says it all. Seniors near the end of their life should not be forced to spend their remaining time in captive isolation, like prisoners, in order to ‘protect’ them from what? Themselves? Like newborns, they need s spokesperson to let the world know how much more they will suffer without the hugs and support of loved ones. You are that spokesperson, Christina. As difficult as it may be, please continue the good work of speaking out for those who no longer have a voice. You are a very special caring young lady.

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  3. Agree with your sentiment s on so many levels. How about a distinction between assisted living and nursing/rehab care? We need our seniors to mount a protest !!!

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  4. I agree. Your sensitivity to the issue I’m sure helps your staff to do their best to give your residents some of the love they need. Hopefully soon some more heartfelt directives will be created and family (especially grandkids) will be able to do the rest!

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