Arizona Nursing Homes Locked Down To Prepare For The Coronavirus

By Jaye McAuliffe
Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2020 - 6:05am
Updated: Tuesday, March 24, 2020 - 7:27am

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Candice Bennett at Immanuel
Jaye McAuliffe/KJZZ
Candice Bennet cannot leave the Immanuel Care Center where she lives. The facility is in lockdown in an attempt to prevent coronavirus exposure to the residents.

Last month, residents at the Immanuel Campus of Care in Peoria were free to come and go from the facility. 

But now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the nursing home is locked down. The residents, including Candice Bennett, can’t receive in-person visitors or leave the facility. 

“We have to have our meals in our room because we can’t really have large groups in the dining room together,” she said.

The Risks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone practice social distancing and keep at least five to six feet apart from other people. The reduced contact is designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC guidelines for nursing homes are much more strict, because older adults and people with compromised immune systems have a higher chance of mortality if they contract the virus. 

“I just want to make it clear that people understand that what we're attempting to do is to protect the elderly and the folks who live here that are older and frail,” said Michael Thomas, Immanuel’s administrator.

According to the CDC, 8 of 10 coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. have been adults aged 65 and older. And care facilities around the country are hoping to prevent outbreaks like the one in a nursing home near Seattle, where more than 25 people have died.

Younger people with disabilities like Candice are also at a higher risk than many able-bodied Americans. April Hill is an emergency nurse practitioner with TeamHealth. 

“People with anything that kind of limits your body's ability to fight diseases naturally, because you're already processing your other diseases that you have, will make it harder if you're exposed to something like the flu or coronavirus,” she said. 

Caregivers’ Concerns

Amidst the new restrictions, employees at Immanuel need to provide care for residents while also preventing exposure. 

Ann Monahan is part of the Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities and is president of the Arizona Autism Coalition. She said care can’t stop for the adults who need it most, whether it’s in nursing homes or at-home care.

“It’s a Herculean task,” she said. “I mean, you have individuals, our workers, our providers, that work directly on very intimate things with our population. You know, like I'm going to the bathroom and bathing and they have to be maybe lifted out of a wheelchair as an example.”

Those tasks can’t be done while social distancing, so caregivers have to be extremely careful.

Community Integration

Monahan also said it’s a balancing act right now between keeping older adults and people with disabilities safe, and keeping them engaged and part of the larger community. 

“One of the things that we try to do, and it's really important to us, is integration,” she said. “Integration in community, integration in society. These types of situations, however, we actually have to take a couple steps back when that happens, right? Because we have to keep the individual safe but not to the point where they're isolated completely.”

"One of the things that we try to do ... is integration. Integration in community, integration in society."
— Ann Monahan, Arizona Autism Coalition president

Back at Immanuel, Michael Thomas is trying to come up with new ways for the residents to stay social with one another.

“So what we provide for them is increased one-on-one activities,” he said. “Like for example, the team here loves to play bingo. Well we can't have a group in bingo, so they decided to do hallway bingo.”

The residents play bingo at their doorways, their voices echoing through the halls. And staff are also trying to provide greater access to electronics so the residents can communicate more easily with family and friends. 

Ann Monahan recommended using Skype, FaceTime or the telephone to reach out to family members and friends with disabilities.

“Get on and talk to somebody, so they don't feel like they're on their own,” she said. 

Doing this can keep vulnerable adults virtually integrated in society during this pandemic.

This story is part of InAccessible, KJZZ's original podcast series highlighting resources for people with disabilities. 

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