I wrote, actually mused, last year about the new normal in the early days of the pandemic, which included the cancellation of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, among other headbutts to our normalcy. Schools were closed, heck everything was closed except essential businesses, which included the business closest to my heart, nursing facilities.
We watched over the next 12 months as the death toll from this new nightmare rose to unmerciful and unacceptable, heartbreaking figures. Nowhere was the misery visited upon us by this virus more evident or obvious than in nursing facilities near and far. An unreal and heartbreaking percentage of those who succumbed to the virus resided in nursing homes as in many cases they were some of the most vulnerable among us.
Nursing facilities were closed to the public and residents’ families creating devastating isolation for residents, their families and loved ones. It was one thing to be ill but another altogether to be denied the comfort of a friendly face and voice, a touch from an ungloved hand, or a caress to soothe a feverish cheek.
Things were not all that rosy for health care workers either, including the dedicated doctors, nurses, aides, dietary workers, maintenance and housekeeping staff, and therapy providers who enable our nursing homes and hospitals to perpetuate those most basic of human needs: love and charity. As an attorney, I was deemed an essential worker, but that meant I could continue my craft and serve my clients from the comfort of my dining room table. I missed being with my co-workers and office mates, but I was able to carry on my tasks essentially unfettered. A mask was not required to work from home. Conversely, my health care provider clients were subjecting themselves daily to a potentially deadly disease that if it did not claim their lives could make them extremely ill with a long road to recovery. Masks were the least intrusive of their new wardrobe requirements, and the protective garments, masks, face shields, etc. had to be changed with each resident encounter.
So many of the dear and dedicated nurses and health facility administrators with whom I interact with almost daily became infected and unfortunately despite being very careful with infection control measures some passed the virus to their family members. Some of my health care provider friends died, including my dear friend and nursing practice mentor and senior advisor, Joan Herrin Estes.
Our nursing home clients gave 1110% to infection control and prevention measures, which proved to be a moving target as the advice from the State and federal governments on the best infection control and prevention strategies seemed to change hourly if not daily. There was much we did not know at first and we all had to learn together.
Then we turned the corner from infection control to virus prevention with vaccines that when tested were deemed safe and effective. Our nursing home, hospital, and health care clients were among the first to be vaccinated along with nursing home residents. An overwhelming percentage of Indiana’s nursing home residents have been vaccinated with few side effects and tremendous benefits. Fewer health care providers have chosen to be vaccinated for reasons of their own choosing and I respect their decision regarding their health care.
With high vaccination rates in our nursing homes, the Indiana Department of Health directed our clients to lift as many restrictions on visitation as possible; families and residents could once again be together. We have a greater understanding of the importance of these visits for our nursing home residents in terms of their physical and mental health. The families enjoyed these get togethers too, submitting to screening in the nursing home reception area, masks, and gowns to be with their loved ones and offer some measure of comfort. I was in a nursing home late last week, properly screened and masked I assure you, and one of my clients observed that for more than a year these residents were isolated from family and from one another; they are now thrilled to be able to socialize with one another and their families, some attending group activities, which in the past they avoided, just to be with others. We have a whole new appreciation for socialization in the nursing home community. They got vaccinated so they could socialize and get back to their normal. The residents I saw last week were smiling in the dining room over their noon meal.
The further we go into the recovery phase of this pandemic, the more obvious it becomes that the way back to normalcy is through vaccination and vaccination has little to no side effects, certainly no side effects akin to death or to hospitalization hooked to a machine that breathes for you.
The 2020 Summer Olympics are back on albeit without spectators because Japan, the host country, has a high infection rate and, so far, a low vaccination rate. Less than half of Americans are fully vaccinated despite the fact that vaccines are available everywhere and are free. Recently the CDC Director said that more than 99% of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States in June were among unvaccinated people. Slowing down elimination of the virus is the delta variant of COVID-19, which is highly contagious, more contagious than the variants that caused the country to essentially shut down for months last year. The vaccines now available have proved to be effective against this variant. We are not seeing a large number of COVID-19 infections or deaths in our nursing home residents because the vast majority of them are vaccinated.
Nursing homes are a communal setting, close quarters, a lot of people with precarious health conditions in a small place, making the potential of the delta variant a scary proposition. EXCEPT for the fact that the residents are vaccinated and thus COVID-19 in all its variants is all but eradicated in our nursing homes and not posing the terrible threat it once did.
Based on the nursing home residents vaccination experience, it seems that the residents and their families were motivated to get vaccinated so that they could avoid a serious infection and also so that they could be together. Both are strong motivators. Given this history, it seems to make sense for those who are not yet vaccinated, for whatever reason, to reconsider and make an appointment for that first step to getting back to the normal we knew before the pandemic. Sure, infection rates have dropped recently but as the CDC Director observed, those who are not vaccinated are the ones who are contracting this awful virus and are dying. Those of us who are fully vaccinated are not.
For questions about health care, contact Janet A. McSharar at firstname.lastname@example.org or your DSV attorney.
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