Susan Selasky, Detroit Free Press
Published 6:00 a.m. ET March 15, 2020 | Updated 2:06 p.m. ET March 15, 2020
Johanna Mannone visits her husband Michael Mannone at WellBridge of Rochester Hills but only for 30 minutes and she had to wear a gown and mask. Detroit Free Press.
Penny Hamilton was visiting her 81-year-old mother in her room at a Mount Clemens nursing home last Wednesday when a worker stopped in with troubling news.
As of that day, there would be no more visits with her mother, Barbara Piotrowski, who has dementia, until further notice.
Like many other nursing homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities in Michigan, the Martha T. Berry Medical Center was implementing a no-visitor policy as fears escalated over COVID-19, which is proving particularly deadly for elderly people. More than half of the U.S. coronavirus-related deaths, as of last Wednesday, have been tied to one nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, after an outbreak there.
Hamilton’s visit with her mom started off routine. The 61-year-old Sterling Heights resident stopped off at the nursing home shortly after 3 p.m. after getting off work. She picked up a badge and signed in. The only thing different was a questionnaire asking whether she had traveled aboard recently. She hadn’t and signed the form.
With gloves, mask and gown on, Johanna Mannone, 79, caresses her husband, Mike, in the front room of WellBridge of Rochester Hills on Friday. Johanna was given onetime, special permission to see her husband, who has been in the facility after suffering two strokes. She doesn’t know when she’d get to see him again. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
She was only in her mother’s room about 20 minutes when the worker stopped in with the news. The worker told Hamilton it was effective that day, but she didn’t need to leave immediately.
Hamilton stayed with her mother until about 6:30 p.m. and then left, not knowing when she would see her again.
“I took it pretty hard at first,” Hamilton said. “It took a while to get her adjusted there and this will be a setback.”
Hamilton is happy with her mother’s care at the facility and knows the visitor restriction is temporary. But, like tens of thousands of others faced with the same dilemma of being separated from their loved ones, she worries how her mother will handle it.
“It’s Mom and she has dementia, so that part is very upsetting” Hamilton said. “Her routine is going to be messed up.”
Hamilton worries her mother will lose weight during this time she is isolated from her family.
“She’s lost a lot weight since she’s been there, and we are trying to put a little more weight on her,” Hamilton said. “It’s not that they are not feeding her, she just prefers what we bring.”
Penny Hamilton of Sterling Heights stands behind her mother Barbara Piotrowski (Photo: Penny Hamilton family photo.)
Hamilton normally takes turns with her sister visiting their mother three times a week after work. Typically, they bring food from the outside such as leftovers or her favorite foods.
Hamilton said the Martha T. Berry Medical Center informed her it is adding extra staff and mobile phones. For patients who can’t go to the front desk and use the phone there, staff will bring a phone to their rooms.
Hamilton knows that her mother is not going to understand why her daughters are not visiting.
“But she’s well, she’s warm and she’s fed,” Hamilton said. “I just asked the staff to ‘please keep telling her why my sister and I aren’t visiting.’ ”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday night announced Michigan’s first two confirmed COVID-19 cases — one each in Oakland and Wayne counties. The number of cases in Michigan have continued to grow daily, leading Whitmer to order all schools to close until at least April and to ban public gatherings of more than 250 people.
Calls by the Free Press to several nursing home and assisted living facilities in Michigan found most are following new guidelines and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The guidelines recommend facilities restrict nonessential visitors from entering the facility. That means, with a few exceptions, that families will no longer be allowed to visit relatives, friends and loved ones.
The facilities the Free Press did speak with, as of Friday, said they had no reported cases of COVID-19.
The visitation restrictions at care facilities have people worried about whether loved ones — whether it’s an elderly parent or a spouse — are being properly looked after. The new rule requires family to put their full trust in the facilities and its staff to look after loved ones.
For some, the visits that have now been halted are an important stimulus for their loved ones.
For some, it’s a routine to arrive armed with food, from soups to sandwiches to sweets, hoping to not only brighten an elderly parent or spouse’s day but take comfort in knowing they are eating.
Phil Jones tries to explain to his mother Carolyn Absalom about the coronavirus but says she’s not catching on.
Absalom has dementia and is in a nursing facility.
The longtime metro Detroit chef said his mother is already mad at him because she is in that facility.
But now, he said, she is upset because she is in lockdown.
On Wednesday Jones said, he received a phone call from a nurse manager that his mother’s facility, Riverview Health and Rehabilitation on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit, was in lockdown.
“They’ve cut off visitors completely,” Jones said. “It affects us all the way around and this is probably not going to help very much and is going to be a challenge.
“Inside of their world of decline, they still have social circuits and they still have the news going on. I have no idea what her reaction is going to be.”
Up until last week, Johanna Mannone never missed a day visiting her husband, Mike, at WellBridge of Rochester Hills. Her husband has been at the facility five months, after suffering two strokes.
“I visited every single day until I was told I couldn’t come anymore,” Mannone said. “I’ve never missed a day yet until now.”
Mannone, who lives just across the street from WellBridge, typically sits with him for at least three hours a day. The couple has been married for 52 years.
On Friday, Mannone, 79, was allowed to have a brief visit with her husband.
Johanna Mannone, 79, gets help from Donald Tolliver, the executive director of WellBridge of Rochester Hills, putting her gown on before seeing her husband, Mike, on Friday for a onetime, specially arranged visit. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
“I was so happy, just so happy,” she said Saturday.
But in order to do so, she had to wear a mask, gloves and gown. And that just got her into the lobby area in a private room to sit with him.
It will probably be her last visit until WellBridge lifts its ban on nonessential visitors.
“They said they would call me when I could visit next,” Mannone said.
As hard as it is for Mannone, she knows the precautions are necessary.
“I’d love to be able to visit my husband every day like we used to,” she said. “But there’s nothing we can do. I’m fortunate that they let me go in yesterday.”
Richard Levin, CEO of Riverview Health with several area facilities, said they have limited all nonessential visitors.
“At the end of the day what our priority at this point is to prevent that virus from entering any of our facilities,” Levin said. “And if it does, from allowing it to spread further. And in doing so, we are taking actions to limit nonessential individuals from entering our buildings.”
Riverview Health facilities are following the recommendations of industry leaders, screening for symptoms and taking action that if employees are sick to stay home, Levin said.
But other questions come to mind for Jones: Will those who perform on-site religious services be restricted?
His mother attends services on Wednesday at the facility.
“I know there are no visitors, but I am not even sure if people are supposed to get food deliveries. And I am talking about the pizza guy. “
Jones wonders whether the facility and its staff are following proper protocols.
“If you’re sending hospital staff out to lunch. Are they taking off all their work clothes?” Jones wondered. “I’ve never seen hospital staff with two sets of clothing.”
Though Jones has an abundance of questions, he does feel all this is necessary because these folks have compromised immune systems.
Jones said he doesn’t visit his mother even if he has a sniffle or is sick with anything because it’s such a closed environment.
“These facilities are generally at higher risk,” he said. “There are questions about the level of care and long-term facilities anyway. This adds a whole new level of scrutiny we have to worry about. “
Signs out front telling visitors On usual days the parking lot at WellBridge of Rochester Hills, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center in Rochester Hills, Michigan is full of cars of visitors inside seeing their loved ones. On Friday, March 13, 2020 the parking lot is empty and has been since the center has closed off to visitors due to the Coronavirus Covid-19 on Tuesday. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
What are facilities doing?
With restricting all nonessential visitors, Michael Perry, CEO of NexCare Health Systems and The WellBridge Group, said they are helping residents cope and keep in contact with family members.
“What we are doing for the social component is emphasizing the ability to Skype or FaceTime with loved ones,” Perry said.
“We have got some minimal pushback (from) families,” Perry said. “I’ve urged the public to be sensitive and I know it’s an inconvenience. But the population in our facilities is very vulnerable. They have underlying health conditions that put them at significant risk.”
Perry said aside from family members, nonessential visitors at their facilities includes any nonmedical person, volunteer groups, church group visits and student visits.
The exception are those in end-of-life or hospice care.
“We are monitoring it on a case-by-case basis and it’s pretty restrictive,” Perry said.
Stephanie Hildebrant, vice president of operations for Applewood Nursing Center in Woodhaven, said the safety of their residents is the top priority. Overall, she said, the response has been positive to the nonessential visitor policy in place at the 150-bed person, Downriver facility.
“The majority of families and visitors have been supportive of the industry as whole taking this type of approach,” she said.
Hildebrant said Applewood is making special accommodations, so families can stay in contact, even if it is not in person.
“We are putting in computers that have FaceTime or Skype programs, so we can give that kind of interaction without the risk,” Hildebrant said.
With the directions from our federal government and health departments, Hildebrant said, it’s protecting the residents of nursing homes.
“This is the first time in over 20 years that there’s been a very united front about protecting residents specifically in a nursing home environment,” Hildebrant said.
Like other institutions, Jewish Senior Life of Metropolitan Detroit, which has campuses in Oak Park and West Bloomfield, is not allowing visitors unless they’re assisting with health care, said Nancy Heinrich, CEO of Jewish Senior Life.
Anyone entering, including health care workers, are asked questions regarding travel and health, Heinrich said.
Jewish Senior Life is also limiting congregation of its approximately 825 residents, delivering food directly to their rooms and actively disinfecting commonly touched surfaces.
Here’s what long-term facilities are saying on their websites:
- Most implemented a “No Visitors” policy last Wednesday.
- Heartland Health Care Centers also restricts visitors under the age of 18 at all facilities.
- American House Senior Living is monitoring the situation on a weekly basis. Pomeroy Living instituted the policy until further notice.
- Those allowing essential visitors, will also need to fill out a questionnaire that includes asking: if you’ve traveled to high risk countries (known as Level 3 areas); been in contact with anyone known to have COVID-19 or have signs of respiratory illness. If any of those answers are yes, even for caregivers and doctors, they will not be allowed to enter.
- Visitors will also have to follow stringent hand-washing and sanitizing guidelines. prior to entering and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Free Press staff writer Omar Abdel-Baqui contributed to this report.