Some nursing home residents risk their lives to escape isolation

  • Lllian DeHart, 92, celebrates her arrival home and her great-granddaugher Grace Bhatia’s fifth birthday along with her other great-granddaughter Nora (left) at her son’s home in Loudon on Friday, October 16, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Lllian DeHart, 92, celebrates her arrival home and her great-granddaugher Grace Bhatia’s fifth birthday along with her other great-granddaughter Nora (left) at her son’s home in Loudon on Oct. 16. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Lllian DeHart, 92, celebrates her arrival home and her great-granddaugher Grace Bhatia’s fifth birthday along with her other great-granddaughter Nora (left) at her son’s home in Loudon on Friday, October 16, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Lllian DeHart, 92, celebrates her arrival home with her family at her son’s Loudon home on Oct. 16. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Lllian DeHart, 92, celebrates her arrival home and her great-granddaugher Grace Bhatia’s fifth birthday along with her other great-granddaughter Nora (left) at her son’s home in Loudon on Friday, October 16, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/24/2020 6:49:27 PM

The family decision to take Lilian DeHart out of her nursing home was an easy one.

They convened a family meeting on Skype during one of Lilian’s designated call times and presented the risks of leaving the protected bubble of masks and rigorous COVID-19 testing. If she were somehow exposed to the virus, it could be fatal. They asked her if she still wanted to leave the nursing home.

“Absolutely,” she said.

As the coronavirus ravaged nursing homes in New Hampshire, facilities adopted new policies to protect their residents – they limited visitations, ended group activities, and, in some cases, confined residents to their rooms for weeks at a time. But as families watched their loved ones struggle in their isolated, albeit safe, new environments, some questioned at what point their quality of life inside the facilities was not worth protecting. A couple made the decision to take their loved ones out of the nursing home altogether.

“You are saving these patients from death by COVID but you’re killing them from a broken heart,” said Pat DeHart, Lilian’s daughter-in-law.

DeHart, 92, who lived in Merrimack County Nursing Home, was on hospice for a bad heart when the pandemic struck. The isolation had taken a toll on her. Since the start of the pandemic, she had lost 32 pounds, which Pat DeHart attributes at least partly to the social isolation.

Lilian DeHart’s family members did their best to keep her company. They attended their weekly Skype call religiously. In July, Pat DeHart, Lilian’s daughter-in-law, and her husband drove 700 miles for two 20-minute outdoor visits. However, after new guidance released by the state required those coming from outside New England to quarantine for two weeks, it became infeasible for Pat, who lives and works in New Jersey, to visit.

“Her world is getting smaller and smaller,” she said.

The DeHart family planned out Lilian’s vacation from the nursing home – they hired a private, wheelchair accessible van to pick her up, carefully planned out visiting times for family members and pastors to visit and soon, she was sitting snugly in a brown Lazy Boy in her son’s living room in Loudon.

Lilian stayed there for a week, where she ate lobster rolls and played scrabble with her family. One of the hospice workers, who came by to help her shower and administer medications, commented on how happy she seemed.

Tonya Dubois, the director of nursing at Hillsborough County Nursing Home, said a couple of families at her facility have opted to take their family members out of the home.

“Some of the patients say ‘I don’t care if I die of COVID, I don’t want to be isolated,’ ” she said.

Especially as the holidays approach, Dubois understands why some families are making this decision. As cases rise in New Hampshire, she isn’t sure how the nursing home is going to be able to celebrate. She worries many will go through their last holiday seasons without seeing their families.

In a typical year, about 300 families would come into Merrimack County Nursing Home for a holiday meal. Though legally there is nothing preventing families from taking their loved ones out for the holidays, Matt Lagos, an administrator at Merrimack County Nursing Home, said he can’t recommend it.

Anyone who leaves the facility has to quarantine for two weeks when they return, which quickly burns through personal protective equipment which they could need in case of an outbreak.

Furthermore, even after rigorous testing and a 14-day quarantine, allowing someone from the outside world in risks bringing in the virus.

“We see how quickly the virus flies through facilities,” he said. “That’s something that keeps me up at night all the time.”


Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.



Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy