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Access to COVID Tests Helps Nursing Home Combat Isolation

COVID tests

Nursing home residents have gone nearly ten months with limited family contact because of the pandemic. Winter weather brought an end to outdoor visits with loved ones.   

But better access to COVID tests means some facilities are now offering limited indoor visits.

Connecting residents with their family is an important goal for Loren Diekman.  He’s president and CEO of Jenkins Living Center in Watertown. They’ve used video chat and phone calls since the beginning of the pandemic. But in-person visits, even from a distance outdoors, made a big difference.  

“I believe those really helped our residents here at Jenkins not feel that severe depression from isolation.” 

Diekman says when they ended outdoor visits the staff had to get even more creative. 

“We converted our gift shop in our facility here--put up plexiglass walls out in the middle, put in an intercom system in there. And again, people can have fairly close contact and still have it safe.” 

 Increased access to COVID tests has also made a difference. Early on, tests were limited and costly. Diekman says his facility spent nearly $39,000 on test kits in one month. In late October, the federal government began supplying rapid COVID-19 tests at no cost to long term care facilities. Diekman says they can now allow one family member per resident to visit each week. 

“And if they’ve been screened and tested and there’s no issue there, they’re able to go up to their resident’s room and have a close contact visit in their room. We ask them to keep their mask on at all times. We can really see the spirits of our residents being lifted when they can have those closer face-to-face visits with their family members.”

The COVID-19 vaccine is also bringing hope for the new year. Diekman says some of their staff and residents have already received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. 

-Contact SDPB reporter Jackie Hendry by email.

Jackie is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls Studio.