“For nearly 365 days our residents sacrificed seeing their families all for the sake of safety. There were no hugs, no holding of hands and no sharing of meals, and while residents were grateful to have visitation through Facetime it wasn’t a substitute f

or that human touch,” said Christine Pelgone-Herz, Fairmont Skilled Nursing Facility Administrator.

During COVID-19, Alameda Health System’s four post-acute facilities (3 SNF’s and 1 Sub-Acute Unit) have been following guidance from federal and state agencies to temporarily modify visitation policies to protect the health and safety of residents and staff.  The guidance transitioned in person visits to Zoom, iPad, Facetime and phone calls. While difficult, the temporary restriction was necessary to protect our most fragile from the deadly disease.

The theme for World Immunization Week, which takes place the last week in April every year, is: “Vaccines bring us closer to doing what we love with those we love.”

SNF residents and staff couldn’t agree more.

Mr. and Mrs. Dualan visiting at Fairmont SNF after nearly a year of not being in the same room.

Pelgone-Herz shared she hadn’t realized the importance of meal sharing and recalled how one resident began to eat less when his wife could no longer bring him the home-cooked meals he was accustomed to due to restrictions.

In March, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidance loosening visitation restrictions that allowed staff to reconnect residents with their loved ones in person.  Staff quickly came up with a plan to allow him to enjoy his wife’s traditional cooking.

“We knew this was something he had longed for and we finally had a solution. Although his wife was not vaccinated, we could allow her to bring him food if she agreed to wear personal protective equipment, which she did. Now his spirits are high and his meal intake is way up,” said Pelgone-Herz.

While things are not back to the way they used to be, vaccines have helped to put them on a path forward. Residents who are vaccinated are allowed scheduled visits and if both the patient and visitor are vaccinated they are allowed a brief hug provided they’re masked. Those who are not vaccinated can visit with no touching at this time.

“This pandemic has really revealed the importance of connection,” said Richard Espinoza, Chief Administrative Officer of Post-Acute Services.” It is such an essential part of our lives. Whether it’s a warm embrace or a reassuring hand on the shoulder, physical and emotional connection is how we show support and establish camaraderie with friends and loved ones. Staff have expressed how moved they are by these reunions and how delighted they are to see our residents light up again.”

According to Espinoza, approximately 87% of AHS post-acute residents have received their first COVID vaccine, 83% have received their second and approximately 70% of post-acute staff are fully vaccinated. These high vaccination rates have made welcoming family and friends back possible.

Resident Liakat Ali and his son Aftikar Ali share a tender moment as visitations ease at skilled nursing facilities.

Pelgone-Herz shared one of the most touching reunifications was between a resident and his daughter. The duo had been holding Facetime meetings regularly but when they were finally permitted to visit the father was overwhelmed with emotions.

“It was one of the most moving visits we’ve had. Everyone was trying to hold back tears to no avail. As soon as our resident saw his daughter, he broke into tears and the staff soon followed,” said Pelgone-Herz.

“The energy is different when family is present. It feels like a community, like family. We get to know our residents and their loved ones. When family is absent, you feel the void. The vaccine has been instrumental in allowing us to get that sense of community back,” she added.