Mass. longterm care facilities welcome socially distant visitors

By Stella Lorence

It’s been a long three months of lockdowns for everyone during the coronavirus pandemic, but particularly for elderly residents in long-term care facilities.  In Massachusetts, over 60% of coronavirus fatalities were in nursing homes.  Staff and residents had to adapt quickly to keep everyone safe and healthy without derailing treatment or therapy plans.


Amanda Telesca is the Director of Rehab at the North End Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, which has 100 beds and about 150 staff members.  Telesca estimated that the average age of the residents is between 75 and 85 years old.


In April, her facility started receiving new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about limiting gatherings and visits. With the new changes, though, came tradeoffs for seniors.


“From a therapy perspective, we were not using our gym quite as frequently, um, we were doing more room treatments,” Telesca said.  “That was probably the biggest change therapy wise. The gym is for us, kind of a social thing, especially in the North End, it’s very communal, so it was definitely a change, but with the therapists, we were able to provide good one-on-one care in the rooms. we can use tools we have in the rooms still to provide the therapy, which is kind of what our job is.”


The North End facility started using the RESTORE Skills therapy program, an online, web-cam based program that has a teleconferencing feature so family members can join the virtual therapy sessions.  Physical therapy exercises are incorporated into games, which RESTORE skills developers say keep residents engaged in the session.


The facility’s goal is to prepare residents to return home and Telesca said that using a technological therapy tool has benefits beyond the physical therapy aspect.


“It is a lot of fun and it’s a good tool to use, as far as coordination goes and technology-wise, training people to use their laptops and preparing for home that way,” Telesca said.


On June 3, Massachusetts became one of the first states to ease restrictions on visits to nursing homes and long term care facilities, just a few days before Gov. Charlie Baker announced in a June 6 press conference the transition to phase 2 of reopening.


“We’ve asked a lot of everybody here in the Commonwealth,” Baker said. “Every family, every business, every employer, every government agency, every individual to get to this point, and so far, we’ve made tremendous progress.”


Even though visits must take place outside, with proper social distancing measures in place, Telesca said the impact of the first in-person visits in months resonate with residents in ways that extend beyond the visit itself.


“It’s just interesting to see how somebody has a visit with their family member, and the next day during therapy, they’re just all lit up, they’re excited, they’re motivated,” Telesca said. “So I think just the overall demeanor of people seeing their loved ones is kind of the best part about it.”


Telesca said everyone so far has done a good job following the CDC protocols for visits.  Even with all of the changes, the North End facility remains committed to their core goals of providing quality care to their residents.


“It’s an interesting time and an interesting way to see how everyone’s able to adapt and come up with new ideas and approaches to treat and get people back on their feet and back home,” Telesca said.


wtbu · Mass. longterm care centers welcome socially distant visitors