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Joe Hight

Our most vulnerable are depending on us.

My June 29 column ended with those words in addressing what I called the ripple effect that affects nursing home or long-term care facility residents, those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

That ripple effect refers to people who unknowingly bring the virus inside, even though most homes are doing everything possible to protect residents. I had expressed hope that family members might be able to see their loved ones in person, but the recent record surges will prevent that for Thanksgiving and probably the entire holiday season.

Nursing homes have tried to find innovative ways for visitations, such as rooms with barriers and outside visits. However, each time, a new COVID case somehow walks through the door, and a new lockdown is enforced.

My own family faces this since my stepmother, Joy Hight, and mother-in-law, Mary Lou Bloch, live in separate nursing homes. Almost every time I talk to Joy on the phone, she says she doesn’t understand why Oklahomans don’t wear masks. I don’t have an answer for her anymore, except that certain people are reckless or just don’t care.

They should. We all should care.

As of last week, 6,706 cases had been reported in Oklahoma nursing homes, with 5,496 recoveries and 577 deaths, more than a third of Oklahoma’s more than 1,625 deaths. The listings of cases at individual nursing homes fill 18 pages of the latest state Department of Health report. In June, I reported that Oklahoma nursing homes had reported more than 700 cases and nearly 100 deaths. The numbers were tragic then but seem miniscule today.

Nationally, The New York Times reports, 662,000 people have been infected at 26,000 facilities, with at least 94,000 deaths.

The sad reality is that the latest surge in cases will continue the lockdowns in nursing homes through the holidays and into 2021. It will also continue the mounting isolation that many residents feel. For those without loved ones to call or check on them, it probably will be worse.

But you can do something about it.

I asked Steven Buck, president and chief executive officer of Care Providers Oklahoma, what we could do to help. He replied enthusiastically with these three suggestions:

• Send cards of encouragement or with holiday greetings. They “are welcomed in buildings.”

• Send smaller items such as cookies or sweets. “They will likely go through an external sanitization process (the postal wrappings), so package appropriately. Be mindful of high-frequency food allergies (for example, if you do cookies and include nuts please mark package accordingly). Also, softer offerings would allow more residents to enjoy (especially for nursing homes).”

• “If you wanted to do something more (send puzzles/games, for example),” he wrote in an email, “simply call the facility and ask for any needs or specific expectations.”

Now is the time to consider reaching out to people who are most in need during the holidays. That includes residents of nursing homes trapped inside or in their rooms because of the pandemic. Encourage others to follow your lead.

You can find a nursing home or long-term care facility near you at https://oklahoma.gov/health/protective-health/health-resources-development-service/health-facility-systems-/directory-of-facilities.html.

In June, I had hoped that the ripple effect of more people wearing masks, social distancing and other safety practices would lead to a happy holiday season for our nursing home residents. It would be one in which they could see their loved ones in person.

For most, that will not happen.

Now our most vulnerable are depending on us for a different reason: to provide hope.

Joe Hight is director and member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, an editor who led a Pulitzer Prize-winning project, the journalism ethics chair at the University of Central Oklahoma, president/owner of Best of Books, author of “Unnecessary Sorrow” and lead writer/editor of “Our Greatest Journalists.”

(Excerpt) Read more Here | 2020-11-23 01:00:00

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