GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Thanksgiving will look a lot different this year for many families due to an increase in COVID-19 cases around Michigan.
Some of the most at-risk groups in nursing homes and assisted living centers are encouraged to stay put, but recent orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services do not stop them from going out.
We all know that being around family is important for a lot of people especially during the holidays. But during a pandemic, that may not be the best option.
“It seems less safe now to take her out than it would’ve in the summer,” said Karen Lynema of Jenison, talking about her mom Pat Vander Weide.
The 77-year-old’s been at St. Ann’s Home in Grand Rapids since June 2019.
“And at St. Ann’s they’ve been really helpful at trying to arrange visits as much as we can,” said Lynema.
The last time the family was with Pat in the building was on March 11th for her birthday. After that, they had to visit through the window.
While it’s not the best option, it provided some time away from isolation. Staff also brought Pat to a door at the end of her hallway where her family could talk to her through the glass.
“So, they wheel her down there,” said Lynema, “and then we use cell phones to talk which kind of confuses her because she can’t always make sense of the fact that we’re talking and then the phone’s going too because there’s a little bit of a delay so, that makes it hard for her.”
The kids wrote their names on a ‘hug glove’ since they’re not allowed to give her one in person.
“It’s hard not being able to give her a hug,” said Lynema, “because I used to go at night sometimes to help tuck her in and I’d give her a hug and say goodnight. Most of us already feel guilty enough for putting our parents somewhere so it just makes the guilt even worse that we can’t go visit.”
St. Ann’s campus has reported 46 COVID cases so far this year. Most are treated on site but some recover at local hospitals and COVID hubs around the state. Residents are tested once a week, while staff members are tested twice.
St. Ann’s was ready to switch to indoor visits but COVID cases started to spike around the state.
Staff tell us when Kent County is within visitation guidelines, they’ll allow them.
Spokesperson Tim Bulson tells FOX 17 in part, “We fully understand the ongoing burden and stress the limitations bring with them, but at the same time understand and support the need to protect the most vulnerable. We hope that all senior communities, their residents, their family members, and local and state officials continue conversations focused on solutions - whatever they may be.”
DHHS recommends people stay in place and not go out. But there’s nothing in the order preventing them from doing so.
If people leave, the agency wants care facilities to make sure they social distance when they come back, wear masks, limit contact with common spaces, and be screened upon their return.
Lynema joined a community group to speak up for those in care facilities, even reaching out to lawmakers so they understand the impact of their decisions.
“People that don’t have somebody in a care facility don’t understand what the effect it’s having on our loved ones and on us,” she said. “Because a lot of our loved ones are - they’re staying safe from COVID but they’re lonely and isolated.”
Karen hopes to take her mom out for Christmas, but it might just be a couple hours.