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Cortland residents cherish return of family visitations

Submitted photo Sandra and Hal Green traveled from Bridgeport and took advantage of Phase Yellow visitation opportunities to spend time their loved one.

THOMAS — Ninety-eight days. That’s how long residents and families at Cortland Acres have gone without visiting with one another due to COVID-19 concerns. Visitation restrictions began March 12, along with a lengthy list of other infection control measures mandated by the CDC and local health departments.

Social distancing protocols meant that communal dining in Cortland’s restaurant, group activities such as BINGO, off-property excursions for ice cream or shopping, and even group therapy sessions were halted to mitigate the chance of contracting the virus. Only essential staff were permitted into the facility and received daily screening upon entrance. Eventually, masks were required making everyone look like bank robbers in an old western movie.

We can all relate to the many challenges of living in this period of social distancing and heightened infection control. As you walk around Cortland’s halls, you hope your smile reaches your eyes when passing someone while wearing a face mask. The ability to comfort someone is reduced to words said from a distance of six feet, not the usual hug or pat on the back.

Despite all the restrictions, innovative solutions were found to enable favorite activities like music therapy to continue three days a week using Cortland’s internal Channel 4 and Zoom to broadcast throughout the facility. The Channel 4 feed was used by Activities Director Marie Grafton for BINGO, news reading, devotion, and humor sessions. Cortland’s Administrator Beth Clevenger used the medium to keep residents up to date on COVID guidelines. Yet, even with creative and engaging activities and the ability to communicate with family using Skype, FaceTime, and Window Chats, feelings of loneliness and seclusion from family and friends was a concern.

There is no denying that social and emotional connections are essential for all humans, and seniors in isolation are even more vulnerable. “Loneliness is not a normal state of being for a human,” says Dr. Christopher Lim, M.D. and Senior Clinical Advisor, Aetna Medicare. “Biologically, we depend on others to survive in the world.” A few weeks ago, when Governor Justice and WVDHHR issued a color-coded plan for reducing restrictions for nursing homes, Cortland’s residents and families eagerly waited for visitation restrictions to be scaled back.

Meeting CMS criteria of “no COVID-19 positives and no substantial community spread for the immediate proceeding 14 days”, Cortland officially entered Phase Yellow on June 17th. Barbershop and beauty shop service providers returned. Residents could enjoy meals once again in the Cafe on a rotating schedule for social distancing. The Activities staff and Therapy department began adding small group activities to their calendar. But the most anticipated element to resume was the limited face-to-face visitation.

Commenting on being separated from her father, Tina McWilliams of Parsons revealed, “it was pretty awful. I did a lot of crying, but I knew it was to keep him safe.” Taking advantage of limited visitation, McWilliams stated, “it makes me happy. Happy to see him being taken care of, and I appreciate the great care taken to keep him safe.”

“It was extremely difficult being separated from my Mother,” explains Karen Watson of Dry Fork. “But I understood that Cortland was taking all the necessary precautions to keep residents like my mother safe. They went to great lengths to accommodate residents and their families with FaceTime and Patio Chats. They did everything short of face-to-face visits, and that was wonderful. Having spent three months apart as a precaution. Our first visit was that much sweater. I think since limited visitation has been restored, all my family has taken advantage and spent some time visiting Mom.”

Looking forward, it’s anyone’s guess what the new “normal” will look like. As positive cases continue to grow around the state, Cortland remains diligent in keeping the virus from its vulnerable resident population. They maintain heightened infection control measures and strive to advance to Phase Green of the nursing home COVID plan.

The Cortland Acres campus includes a 94-bed long-term care facility, a 5,100 square foot rehabilitation center, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs, independent living units at Pineview, and The Pines. The campus also houses a health center and pharmacy as well as offices of visiting medical specialties. For more information on Cortland Acres or to set up an appointment or tour call 304-463-4181 or visit www.cortlandacres.org.

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